Category Archives: diet

Vitamin E supplements may increase risk of stroke

Vitamin E is an essential nutrient found in spinach, watercress, mustard greens, and many green leafy vegetables. Good sources of Vitamin E are oily plant seeds such as peanuts and sunflower kernels. Vitamin E acts like an antioxidant, and a deficiency of this vitamin causes degeneration of nerve cells and fragility of red blood cells that is generally diagnosed as hemolytic anemia. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for d-alpha-tocopherol, which is the biologically active form of Vitamin E, is 15 mg (22.5 IU) for adolescents and adults.

Many people take Vitamin E supplements because consumption of antioxidant vitamins may reduce the risk of certain cancers.  The supplement are usually sold in capsules of doses of 200, 400 and 1000 IU, but more is not better.  A recent study of 118,765 subjects split relatively evenly between the placebo and vitamin E groups found that overall, supplemental vitamin E had no effect on the risk for total stroke; however, when examining the stroke subtypes, there was a 22 percent increase in risk for hemorrhagic stroke (intracranial bleeding), and a 10 percent decrease in ischemic stroke (blockage of the blood supply by a clot).[1]

It is not necessary to take Vitamin E supplements if you eat a nutritious diet with plenty of leafy greens and some nuts.

Learn more about vitamins

[1] Markus Schürks, et al., Effects of vitamin E on stroke subtypes: meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials, BMJ 2010; 341:c5702

Weight-Loss Ring

I received in the mail a catalog of household goods and trinkets.  The cover had an advertisement for a “weight-loss ring” that is claimed to target weight loss in specific problem areas such as the tummy, hips or buttocks.  The adjustable ring is supposed to work on the principle of acupressure.  The ad claims that the Japanese apply pressure on different fingers to target weight loss in specific areas.  This miraculous ring costs only $3.99!

P.T. Barnum, the 19th century American circus entertainer, said “There’s a Sucker Born Every Minute”.  His incisive bit of wisdom is still true in the 21st century.  If you believe that you can lose weight by putting on a ring, and that it does not matter how much you eat, then you are a sucker.  If you believe that you can lose weight in specific areas, then you are misinformed.  Weight loss cannot be targeted.

The advertisement is selling a dream.  Many people will pay $3.99 on the chance that the ring might work.  The amount of money is small enough that customers will not complain if it does not work.  The effort to try to get a refund will cost more than the ring itself, so probably none will be returned.  The manufacturer makes a profit of about 1,500%, since a little piece of twisted wire that costs $0.25 can be sold for $3.99.  Good business!

This is clearly a scam.  Why doesn’t a government agency stop it?  The answer is that it is not clear which agency would have jurisdiction.  The Food and Drug administration cannot do it because the ring is not a food or a drug.  The Consumer Protection Agency probably will not get involved unless someone is injured.  So the consumers are left to fend for themselves.

Learn how to lose weight

Alli diet pills

Orlistat is the active ingredient of alli

In 2007, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved over-the-counter sale of the diet pill alli for use by overweight adults in conjunction with a reduced-calorie, low-fat diet.  The FDA also recommended that exercise should be part of the program.  The alli diet pill is a reduced strength version of the prescription weight loss drug Xenical, also known by the generic name orlistat.  GlaxoSmithKline, the marketer, claims that “alli helps people lose 50 percent more weight than with diet alone”.

Alli is a lipase inhibitor that works by partially blocking the breakdown and absorption of fat in the intestines.  This means that it also inhibits the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, such vitamins A, D, E, and K.  One supplement tablet containing these vitamins should be taken daily, at bedtime, when using alli.  The primary side effects, or treatment effects, of alli are oily, loose stools with excessive flatulence due to unabsorbed fats reaching the large intestine.  Fecal incontinence and frequent or urgent bowel movements are also common.

Although alli appears to be safe for long-term use, most of the weight loss occurs within the first six months of using the drug, and the majority of users regain weight when they discontinue using alli.  The reason for regaining weight is that users depend on the pills and do not learn to reduce their calories sufficiently to maintain a lower body weight.  To lose weight and keep it off permanently, it is necessary to eat smaller portions while maintaining proper nutrition.

Learn more about weight control

What is moderate exercise?

To estimate the number of calories that you should eat, you also need to know your level of activity.  If you are very active, you will need more calories than if you are sedentary.  While it is relatively easy to estimate the number of calories in your food by weighing and measuring, it is a lot harder to estimate the number of calories burned by exercise.  People often overestimate their amount of activity and consequently they eat more calories than they burn, and gain weight over time.

The Calorie Restriction Calculator estimates the Basal Metabolic Rate, and then uses an activity factor to obtain the total number of calories needed per day.  Using the wrong activity factor alters the estimate of daily calories substantially.

A paper on metabolism used a definition of “vigorous exercise” as expenditure of 14.1 to 16.3 kcal/kg of ideal body weight per day.[1]  Using the rounded figure of 15 Calories per kilogram of body weight, then “vigorous exercise” for a person weighing 150 pounds (68 kilograms) corresponds to 1020 Calories per day.  If walking at 4 miles per hour burns about 300 Calories per hour, then you would need to walk 3 hours and 24 minutes to burn off 1020 Calories.

The activity factors for the Calorie Restriction Calculator are:

  • 1.200 = sedentary (little or no exercise)
  • 1.375 = lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week, approx. 590 Cal/day)
  • 1.550 = moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week, approx. 870 Cal/day)
  • 1.725 = very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week, approx. 1150 Cal/day)
  • 1.900 = extra active (very hard exercise/sports and physical job, approx. 1580 Cal/day)

The activity factor lightly active corresponds to walking 2 hours per day, moderately active corresponds to walking 3 hours per day, very active corresponds to walking 4 hours per day, and extra active corresponds to walking 5 hours per day (20 miles).  More strenuous exercises, such as climbing stairs or running, burn more calories per hour.  Most people who exercise from 30 minutes to 45 minutes per day are in the “lightly active” category.  You can use the CR calculator to determine the number of calories for each level of exercise for your particular weight by subtracting the calories for a specific activity level from the calories for the sedentary option.

See the chart listing the calories for various activities

[1] Thissen JP, Ketelslegers JM, Underwood LE., Nutritional regulation of the insulin-like growth factors, Endocr Rev. 1994 Feb;15(1):80-101. Review. PMID: 8156941

Why ice cream makes you fat

For dessert, a friend brought a box of four ice cream sandwiches from Trader Joe’s made with vanilla ice cream between chocolate chip cookies and rolled in mini chocolate chips.  The sandwiches are actually delicious, but if you are used to low glycemic foods, you feel your blood sugar spike for about two hours after eating one of these sandwiches.  The portion does not look too big.  Each sandwich is about 3 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick, but it is packed with 440 calories.

The nutrition label says that each sandwich has 21 grams of fat, including 12 grams of saturated fat which is 60% of the daily value.  In other words, this little ice cream morsel has more than half of the saturated fat that you should eat in a whole day.  The amount of carbohydrate is also quite high, 60 grams of carbohydrate, of which 42 grams are sugars.  This is more sugar than in a 12 oz (355 ml) can of Coca Cola.

Ice cream is high in fat and high in sugar.  It takes one hour of strenuous exercise to burn off 400 calories, and it is a sure bet that you are not going to go jogging after eating an ice cream sandwich with this much sugar.  You are going to feel sleepy, you are going to sit down on the couch, and your body is going to store the sugar as fat.

You could limit your calories by cutting a sandwich into quarters with 110 calories each, but who has the discipline to stop after eating four tiny bites?  It is too much hassle to put the remainder in a container and back in the freezer, and it would be a waste to let the ice cream melt.  So, you have to eat it all before it melts.  Right?

These are the reasons why ice cream makes you fat:

  • High fat
  • High sugar
  • Large portions
  • Lack of exercise
  • Lack of discipline

Learn how to lose weight

Body Fat Calculator

Diet Calculator
Diet Calculator

Did you eat too much for the holidays? If you are thinking about going on a diet, you need the right tools to measure your progress.  Some people give up when they have a small setback, but to be successful you have to keep your objective in mind.

The Diet Calculator tells you how much weight you need to lose to be within the normal range.  In addition, the calculator will estimate the percentage of body fat and the Body Mass Index (BMI).  By weighing yourself regularly and using the calculator, you can track your progress toward your goal.

The best strategy for losing weight is to reduce the amount of food that you eat and increase your activity level by exercising regularly.  In particular, cut out sweet drinks and desserts because they don’t provide nutrition, but they are high in calories.  Eat only two-thirds of your normal portions  to keep your normal eating schedule and reduce your daily calories by one third.  Within a week you will see your weight start to drop.

Learn what to eat to lose weight

How to Age Gracefully

Antonio Zamora – Age 67

A large percentage of people who are retired or close to retirement take medications for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, digestive problems, and other chronic conditions that have developed over their lifetime.  If you listen to the drug commercials during the national evening news, this is normal, but it should not be.  Many of the diseases that we associate with old age are the result of bad diet, exposure to harmful chemicals, and lack of exercise.

Optimum Nutrition
Your diet should include enough protein and essential fatty acids to maintain a normal weight.  The large number of overweight people all around us distorts our notion of what is a normal weight.  Use this Body Mass Index (BMI) Calculator to determine whether your weight is in the normal range.

BMI Calculator

Learn about Optimum Nutrition

You should engage in 30 minutes of vigorous exercise at least three to four times per week.  Exercise improves your coordination and your muscle strength.  Exercise also keeps you lungs and circulatory system in good working condition.  But be careful.  Avoid getting injured from strenuous or high-impact exercises.

Keep Active Socially and Mentally
As you age, you will need to maintain a good social network.  Many people who live to a ripe old age become depressed when they feel isolated as their friends and relatives start dying.  You can keep engaged by volunteering to teach young people, or by participating in social organizations that make you feel useful.

Try to stay healthy
The two most common causes of death are heart disease and cancer.  If you can avoid these two dangers, you have a good chance of living a long life.  Many cardiovascular diseases can be avoided by maintaining a normal weight and exercising regularly.  The risk of cancer can be reduced by avoiding substances that damage your cellular DNA and cause tumors, such as the chemicals in tobacco.

Learn How Others Do It!
One of the best ways to learn how to age gracefully is to constantly explore the concept with those who are indeed aging gracefully. You can always read about famous people and celebrities, but remember that with vast wealth comes the ability to hire all sorts of people to keep you looking and feeling fabulous.
Read about the oldest person alive and see what helps “normal” people age gracefully.

Learn how to reduce cancer risks through diet and lifestyle changes

Protein Restriction or High Protein for Longevity?

Studies have consistently shown that dietary restriction (also called calorie restriction) reduces oxidative damage to mitochondrial DNA and increases maximum longevity.  Only protein restriction is responsible for the decrease in oxidative damage; the restriction of carbohydrates or lipids does not reduce oxidative stress or increase maximum longevity.  Some studies have looked at the amino acid components of protein and have found that reduced intake of the amino acid methionine plays a major role in the decrease in mitochondrial damage and increase in longevity.

Some researchers conclude that the intake of proteins (and thus methionine) of Western human populations is much higher than needed, and that decreasing the levels could reduce tissue oxidative stress and increase healthy life span in humans.[4]  While this recommendation seems to make sense theoretically, it also is in direct conflict with the statistical findings of nutritional surveys.

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein, established by the Food and Nutrition Board of the United States National Academy of Science, is 0.8 g protein/kg body weight/day for adults, regardless of age.  The 1994-96 Continuing Survey of Food Intake by Individuals[1] found that protein intake was significantly below recommended levels.  The following table has the percentages of white males and females below 75% of the RDA and below 100% of the RDA.  The percentages of deficient black Americans were even higher.

Protein Below 75% Below 100%
20-39 5.3 15.3
40-59 6.6 18.5
60 and over 10.4 29.6
20-39 10.4 27.5
40-59 13.0 29.8
60 and over 15.8 35.9

The statistics show that the deficiencies increased with age.  A large proportion of senior citizens are seriously deficient in meeting their minimum essential protein requirements and suffer health problems and complications like:

  • Sarcopenia (muscle wasting; weakness, poor balance)
  • Osteoporosis (weak bones; fracture and hospitalization)
  • Dementia (loss of mental function; loss of cognition)
  • Immune dysfunction (vulnerbility to infectious disease)

Inadequate protein intake results in loss of body cell mass, decreased muscle function, and lower immune response.  On the other hand, supplementing the diets of patients with hip fractures with 20 grams of protein decreased time in a rehabilitation hospital and reduced the rate of loss of bone mineral density.  Higher protein intakes were associated with decreased risk for hip fracture in postmenopausal women.  A study of 2066 men and women aged 70–79 years found that participants in the highest quintile of protein intake lost approximately 40% less lean mass than did those in the lowest quintile of protein intake.  The study concluded that dietary protein may be a modifiable risk factor for sarcopenia in older adults.[3]

Concerns about potential detrimental effects of increased protein intake on bone health, renal function, neurological function and cardiovascular function are generally unfounded. In fact, many of these factors are improved in elderly ingesting elevated quantities of protein. An intake of 1.5 g protein/kg/day, or about 15-20% of total caloric intake, is a reasonable target for elderly individuals wishing to optimize protein intake in terms of health and function.[2]

There are some practitioners of Calorie Restriction with Optimum Nutrition (CRON) who are experimenting with various approaches for reducing protein.  Besides lowering the proportion of protein in their diet, they may also select vegetable sources of protein which are generally lower in methionine than animal proteins.  The consequences of misjudging the minimum protein requirements with advancing age can result in shorter life rather than longevity.  Thus far, the evidence for greater health in old age seems to be on the side of higher protein levels, and let us not forget that methionine is considered an “essential” amino acid.

Learn more about Amino Acids and Proteins

[1] 1994-96 Continuing Survey of Food Intake by Individuals

[2] Wolfe RR, Miller SL, Miller KB, Optimal protein intake in the elderly,
Clin Nutr. 2008 Oct;27(5):675-84. Epub 2008 Sep 25, PMID: 18819733

[3] Houston DK, Nicklas BJ, Ding J, Harris TB, Tylavsky FA, Newman AB, et al, Dietary protein intake is associated with lean mass change in older, community-dwelling adults: the Health, Aging, and Body Composition (Health ABC) Study, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 87, No. 1, 150-155, January 2008

[4] López-Torres M, Barja G, Lowered methionine ingestion as responsible for the decrease in rodent mitochondrial oxidative stress in protein and dietary restriction possible implications for humans, Biochim Biophys Acta. 2008 Nov;1780(11):1337-47. Epub 2008 Jan 18., PMID: 18252204

How to lower blood cholesterol naturally

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 106.7 million Americans age 20 and older have total blood cholesterol levels of 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) and higher. That is 35% of the population of the United States! The epidemic of high cholesterol is mainly due to the fats used in packaged and commercial foods. Cholesterol can be lowered by avoiding hydrogenated fats and eating polyunsaturated fats found in fish, walnuts, and sunflower seeds. Unfortunately, essential fatty acids turn rancid rapidly, and manufacturers avoid them to prevent packaged foods from spoiling while they sit in supermarket shelves.

The worst fats for your health are hydrogenated fats because they increase Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL), the “bad” cholesterol, and they decrease the High Density Lipoprotein (HDL), the “good” cholesterol. Saturated fats like those found in coconut oil and palm kernel oil increase cholesterol levels powerfully, but these are the fats that are used by manufacturers because they do not get stale.

The chart above shows the effects of individual dietary fatty acids on Total Serum Cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and HDL cholesterol when 1% of the energy from carbohydrates in the diet is replaced by 1% of energy of the specific fatty acids. The chart shows cholesterol increases from lauric acid (C12:0), myristic acid (C14:0), and palmitic acid (C16:0) which are found in coconut oil, palm oil, and butter. Elaidic acid (trans-C18:1), which is present in hydrogenated fats, is the worst because it increases LDL and decreases HDL. The saturated fatty acid stearic acid (C18:0), the monounsaturated oleic acid (C18:1), and the polyunsaturated linoleic acid (C18:2) decrease LDL and increase HDL to various degrees.[1] Here are some steps to lower cholesterol:

  • Avoid all hydrogenated fats (they are very common in commercial fried foods and baked goods)
  • Reduce sources of saturated fats (butter, coconut oil, palm oil, fat from meats, chicken skin)
  • Increase consumption of polyunsaturated fats (fish oil, walnut oil, flax seed oil, grape seed oil)
  • Add soluble fiber to your diet (oatmeal, legumes)

Unfortunately, many of the oils available commercially are highly processed. The best thing is not to eat them. Meet your essential fatty acid requirements by eating foods that have the oils, e.g., fish, walnuts, sunflower seeds, etc. Olive oil does not lower cholesterol; it is basically neutral. The reason why olive oil receives a lot of positive promotion is because it is used in the Mediterranean diet, and the Mediterranean diet is associated with lower incidence of cardiovascular diseases, although this is not necessarily because of the oil.

The hardest part in normalizing your cholesterol will be avoiding the vast number of commercial foods that have hydrogenated fats and saturated fats. They include shortening, margarine, butter flavor popcorn, hash browns, french fries, biscuits, baked apple pies, chocolate chip cookies, taco shells, and the list goes on and on. Pay close attention to the food labels.

Learn how to lower your cholesterol

[1] Martijti B Katan, Peter L Zock, and Ronald P Mensink, Effects of fats and fatty acids on blood lipids in humans: an overview, Am J Cli. Nutr., 1994;60(suppl):1017S-1022S.

Americans eat too much sugar

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey database from 2001 to 2004 showed that the average intake of added sugars for all Americans was 22.2 teaspoons or about 355 calories per day.  “Added sugars” are sugars and syrups that are added during processing or preparation of foods as well as sugars and syrups that are added at the table, they do not include the sugars that are naturally present in fruits and whole grains.

In August 2009, The American Heart Association (AHA) issued a recommendation to cut the intake of added sugars.[1]  The publication gives consumers detailed guidance of the upper limit of added sugars in the diet.  The AHA recommendations emphasize a healthy lifestyle and a diet that is rich in fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, high-fiber whole grains, lean meat, poultry and fish. In addition to consuming an overall healthy diet, the guidelines emphasize the importance of a healthy body weight to avoid metabolic abnormalities and adverse health conditions such diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The problem with added sugars is that they are refined carbohydrates without any vitamin or mineral content.  Sugars are just “empty calories” without any nutritive value.  If you don’t exercise enough to burn them off, the body converts them to fat.

Most American women should consume no more than 100 calories of added sugars per day; most men, no more than 150 calories. That corresponds to about 6 teaspoons of added sugars a day for women and 9 for men.  Soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages are the greatest source of added sugars in the American diet. A 12-ounce can of regular soda contains about 130 calories from 8 teaspoons of sugar or high fructose corn syrup.  This means that even one can of soda per day is too much for the average woman, and this does not count all the other sources of added sugars such as salad dressing, spaghetti sauce, candy, and baked goods.

Learn about weight control and healthy diet

[1] Dietary Sugars Intake and Cardiovascular Health. A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association, Circulation, 2009 Aug 24, PMID: 19704096 [link]