Tag Archives: healthy eating

We live in a toxic food environment. Here are some tips to help you survive.

The term “toxic environment” was popularized years ago to refer to conditions that promote the consumption of high-calorie, unhealthy food and encourage being physically inactive. This combination is thought to be a major factor that contributes to obesity and other chronic diseases, so understanding both aspects is important. For now, let’s focus on our toxic food environment, which I do in my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

Soda aisle

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How to stay healthy at work.

Many people are trying to create a healthier lifestyle by eating healthier, making time for exercise or other activity, and reducing stress. Frequently, the focus is on what they can do at home, from prepping meals to joining a gym or going to yoga class. But many people spend a major part of their day at work, where healthy options are often limited. From the box of donuts at a morning meeting to a quick fast food lunch, eating well at work can be difficult. And for people who have office jobs, it also likely means lots of time sitting at a desk.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to make your time at work a little less damaging to your health. Even better, these steps can also make you more productive and feel better throughout the day. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

Parr at desk 2-11-16

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On second thought: Nutrition advice that seemed like a good idea at the time.

If you follow nutrition news you have no doubt noticed that recommendations change over time. Foods you thought were good for you can suddenly show up on a “never eat” list and foods you had learned to avoid might be recommended as healthy. This makes it challenging to follow a healthy diet, for sure. It may also make you question the advice of nutrition experts, who seem to change their minds periodically.

This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.


There are several reasons for this. First, carefully designed long-term studies of food and health are difficult to conduct. This means that small differences can appear to be more important than they really are, and meaningful effects may not be statistically significant.

Additionally, it is unreasonable to carefully control what people eat over years or decades, so “proving” that a food is either beneficial or harmful to health is almost impossible. This leads to health claims that probably shouldn’t be made as well as missed opportunities to make useful recommendations.

There are also political reasons why nutrition advice can change over time. The long-held belief that eating fat causes obesity and heart disease was largely based on decisions made by politicians. Importantly, these decisions were not based on good research. This led to a recommendation to eat more carbohydrates instead, something the food industry embraced.

Low-fat foods that were high in sugar became known as health food, despite evidence to the contrary. Even as research linking sugar intake with poor health accumulated, Congress forbid U.S. dietary guidelines to include an “eat less” recommendation. Only now are we changing our thoughts and behaviors to consume less added sugar and be less fearful of fats in our diet.

Here are two examples of nutrition advice that was well-meaning at the time but didn’t work out in the long run. In fact, these recommendations may actually have made us less healthy.

Low-Fat and Fat-Free Foods

The recommendation to eat less fat resulted in foods that normally would contain fat to be reformulated to have less, or no, fat. The fat was replaced by sugar and other additives leading to ingredient lists that read more like a chemistry experiment than food. We know now that these highly-processed foods were no healthier and are thought to be a major cause of the obesity epidemic.

Sugar Free foods

Now that we have embraced the idea that we should eat less added sugar, there are sugar-free alternatives to most foods and beverages. The problem is that foods containing sugar are meant to taste sweet, so something must be added to replace the sugar. More often than not, the sugar is replaced by artificial sweeteners that contain no calories but still add sweetness.

There are two problems with this. First, although these foods may be calorie-free, they are still associated with weight gain. Second, they may be sweeter than the food they replace and alter our expectation of what food should taste like. This is especially true for children, who learn to expect that all food should be sweet. Furthermore, the alternative sweeteners used to replace sugar may not be as safe as we initially thought.

The bottom line is that all nutrients—carbohydrates, fat, and protein—are healthy within relatively broad ranges. And getting these nutrients, fats and sugar included, from real food is always preferable to eating processed foods.

The key to good health is to balance what you eat with daily physical activity at work, at the gym, or at home. And remember that nutrition researchers and experts are doing their best to bring you reliable recommendations, even if it doesn’t come across that way in the news!


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Go (and Eat) Green for Earth Day

Since Earth Day is this is a good time to think about the impact we have on our environment and what we can do to reduce that impact. The good news is there are ways we can “go green” that are good for our health and the health of our planet, as I explain in my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

Farmers_Market

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Let’s Agree to Agree About Food

March is National Nutrition Month, an annual event created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to focus on developing healthy eating and physical activity habits. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics represents Registered Dietician Nutritionists and other nutrition professionals and is an excellent source for information about food, nutrition, and health.

I will share some general advice about healthy eating here but remember that a Registered Dietician is your best resource for evaluating your diet and making changes to meet your individual needs for health and performance.

Here are five ways to improve your diet almost everyone agrees on, from my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

Group of people eating

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Are those chocolate hearts you got for Valentine’s Day healthy?

Today is Valentine’s Day so you may have been the lucky recipient of a box of chocolates. Hopefully you enjoyed it! Of course, eating too many sweets, including chocolate, isn’t a good idea. But eating certain types of chocolate has been linked to some health benefits.

The idea that chocolate may be healthy is no doubt welcome news for chocoholics. But it may leave you wondering if eating chocolate really is healthy. The answer depends on what you mean by chocolate and what you mean by healthy.

chocolate hearts

Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

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Too fat to fly! Weight loss tips from the North Pole.

There is a problem at the North Pole! Santa’s reindeer are unable fly, putting his Christmas plans in jeopardy. It turns out that the reindeer are suffering from a common problem, one that you might be dealing with, too. Fortunately, Santa has a solution that can help his reindeer and save Christmas. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

toofattofly


According to the children’s book Too Fat to Fly by Doreen Belleville, Santa’s reindeer have gained weight in the “off season.” Too much sitting around and too many snacks and treats have resulted in weight gain to the point where the reindeer simply can’t do their job. Sound familiar?

Whether it comes during the holidays or gradually throughout the year, weight gain is common for many people. And, like the reindeer, it often goes unnoticed until it is too late—trying to fit into your old suit or favorite dress, for example.

It’s not just the weight that is the problem. The long, lazy vacation has allowed the reindeer to become unfit. They simply aren’t strong enough and don’t have the endurance to pull Santa’s sleigh. Again, a decline in fitness over time is something many of us experience and we may not notice it until we do something strenuous that makes it clear we are out of shape.

In the book we learn that the solution is both simple and well-known. Santa charges his elves with getting the reindeer back in shape, in terms of both fitness and fatness. The snacks are replaced with healthy meals containing lots of fruits and vegetables. And days spent lying around are now spent in the gym and going for walks outdoors.

Like many of us, the reindeer have a tough time adjusting to their new exercise routine. The treadmills are tricky for them, until they get the hang of it. For many of us, exercise equipment and new types of exercise can be intimidating. But with some guidance from the elves (or a personal trainer) you may find that trying new forms of exercise can really help you, just like it did for the reindeer.

The reindeer followed a diet that emphasized fruits and vegetables. Despite the controversy over which diet is the best, almost everyone agrees that more fruits and vegetables and fewer calories from added sugars will help you lose weight. These foods are lower in calories than many other options, contain fiber to help you feel full, and replace less healthy foods you might otherwise pick. Carrots and apples, what the elves picked for the reindeer, are excellent choices, but pretty much any fruits and vegetables will work. Of course, you should eat other foods in moderation, too, including whole grains, meat, and dairy.

The good news is that the diet and exercise program helped the reindeer lose weight and get back in shape in time for Christmas can work for you, too. While you may not see such rapid results, if you are careful with what you eat and dedicate time every day for exercise, you can lose weight relatively quickly. It’s not easy for people or for reindeer, but weight loss and improved fitness are achievable.

Looking forward, continuing to eat a healthy diet and exercising regularly can save you the trouble of trying to lose weight next year at this time. It is always easier to maintain weight and stay fit than it is to lose weight and get back in shape. I’m sure that’s a lesson Santa will teach his reindeer!


Be thankful for family, friends, and food— real food—this Thanksgiving​.

Happy Thanksgiving week! While this Thanksgiving may different when it comes to gathering together with family and friends, food will certainly be a part of the holiday. Even though many of our favorite dishes are not the healthiest choices, they make an appearance on the table each year. For many of us, Thanksgiving dinner is a day marked by overindulgence and poor nutrition choices.

In an effort to make Thanksgiving dinner healthier, recommendations for modifying or replacing traditional dishes are a common theme in magazines, on the morning TV shows, and on the web. While these suggestions are meant to be helpful, I’m not sure they actually serve to make a significant impact on health. In fact, the foods we eat and the way we eat them may be the healthiest part of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.



Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

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That’s not coffee! It’s your morning milkshake.

Breakfast is often thought of as the most important meal of the day, for good reason. Eating a healthy breakfast provides energy to start the day and can be helpful for weight control. In children, a healthy breakfast is essential for proper growth and development and is linked to improved attention and learning in school. Unfortunately, many common breakfast foods are more like candy and soda than a healthy meal to start the day.

This is also true for breakfast drinks, including coffee drinks. Many popular coffee drinks are more similar to a milkshake than to actual coffee!

Take, for example, the grande (16 oz) Mocha Frappuccino blended coffee drink from Starbucks. This drink has 410 calories, 15 grams of fat, 61 grams of sugar, and 5 grams of protein. To put this in perspective, 61 grams of sugar is more than most people should have in an entire day!

You could order this drink with nonfat milk and no whipped cream. That’s a good idea, but it will still have 270 calories, 1 gram of fat, and 59 g sugar. That’s still a lot of sugar!

Let’s compare that to a small (16 oz.) McCafe Mocha Frappé from McDonald’s, which is essentially a coffee milkshake. It has 500 calories, 20 grams of fat, 66 grams of sugar, and 8 grams of protein.

Sure, the calories and sugar in the coffee drink aren’t quite as outrageous as the milkshake, but it’s close. This is especially clear when you compare the coffee drink to actual coffee. A grande (16 oz.) Pike Place Roast from Starbucks has 5 calories and no fat or sugar. If you like cream and sugar in your coffee, that adds 5 grams of sugar, 3 grams of fat, and about 50 calories, still way less than either “coffee” drink.

If you don’t want plain coffee a better choice might be a grande Starbucks Cappuccino, which has 140 calories, 7 g fat, and 10 g sugar. Get one with nonfat milk and you cut out 60 calories from fat. If you are worried about how much sugar you consume and how many calories you drink (you probably should be!), this is a much better coffee drink choice than a milkshake!

This isn’t specific to Starbucks. A medium (16 oz.) iced coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts has 130 calories and 28 grams of sugar. And that doesn’t include a donut.

Does this mean you can’t enjoy a delicious coffee drink? Of course not. But don’t try to fool yourself by calling it coffee. Depending on what you order, it may essentially be a milkshake! I think we can all agree that is not part of a healthy breakfast.

I call this idea that unhealthy food makes its way onto our breakfast table Candy & Soda for Breakfast. Foods like donuts and pastries are often topped with icing and it would be difficult to distinguish many muffins from cupcakes. Many “fruit” drinks contain little to no juice but plenty of added sugar, so they are essentially soda without bubbles.

And it’s not just breakfast, either. Lunch, dinner, and snacks frequently include foods that look like a healthy choice—yogurt, nuts, and granola bars are a few examples—but really are candy and soda in disguise.

Let’s Agree to Agree About Food

Eating a healthy diet is a goal for many people to help them treat or prevent disease, improve exercise performance, or maintain a healthy body weight. If you pay attention to news about food and nutrition you have probably noticed that there is a great deal of controversy about what constitutes a healthy diet. It’s easy to find lists of foods to avoid and things to eat every day. Unfortunately, lists from different sources may not be the same or, worse, a food that is on one “never eat” list is on another “always eat” list.

There is a different approach you could take to plan the foundation for a truly health way to eat. Instead of focusing on what is different, think about what recommendations are shared among most “healthy” diets. Here is some diet advice that almost everyone agrees on. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

Group of people eating

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