Tag Archives: nutrition

When it comes to trans fats, zero is too much!

Nutrition recommendations are often confusing and contradictory. To make things worse, the nutrition information provided on food packages can be difficult to decipher or downright misleading. In my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week I share information about trans fats and how zero doesn’t always mean none.

trans-fat-label


Remember when fat was bad and carbohydrates were good? The idea was that eating fat led to weight gain, a problem that could be solved by eating less fat. Then carbohydrates, including bread and pasta, were blamed for obesity and other health problems which led to the low-carb diet craze.

The truth is that all fats and all carbohydrates aren’t necessarily good or bad. Fats come in different forms, some of which have positive health effects and others that are linked to poor health and disease. Similarly, carbohydrates also come in different forms, some you should eat more of and some you should limit. This is why you hear people talk about good carbs and bad carbs or good fats and bad fats. In reality, no nutrients are really “bad” as long as you consume them in reasonable amounts balanced by exercise and other activity.

Nutrition recommendations for good health call for a moderate fat intake (20–35% total calories) with an emphasis on monounsaturated and omega-3 fats, while limiting saturated and trans fats. Olive oil, canola oil, and avocados are good sources of monounsaturated fats. Fish, including salmon and tuna, are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Saturated fats are found primarily in animal products, especially red meat and butter, as well as tropical oils like palm and coconut oil.

Most trans fats come from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, which are polyunsaturated fats that have been modified for use in frying and in baking (margarine is a partially hydrogenated vegetable oil). While there is much debate about the health effects of the different types of fats, almost everyone agrees that trans fats should be avoided.

The Nutrition Facts panel on food packages also contains information that is supposed to help you make choices that are lower in total fat, saturated fat, and trans fat. Unfortunately, this is not as straightforward as it seems. By law, manufacturers can list trans fat at 0 grams as long as it contains less than 0.5 grams. This means that a food can contain up to 0.49 grams of trans fat per serving even though it is listed as 0 grams!

This may not seem like much, but consider that the American Heart Association recommends limiting trans fat intake to 2 grams per day, at most. You could easily exceed this limit with just a few servings of “trans-fat free” foods. When it comes to trans fats, zero can be too much. It’s no wonder so many people struggle to make healthy food choices!

How can you tell if zero isn’t really zero? One way is to look for “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” in the ingredient list, which indicates that trans fats are present.

Nutrition information is confusing, to say the least. Even if you know to look at the Nutrition Facts panel on food packages, the information there is not always easy to understand. In some cases, what you see on the label does not reflect what you are really eating.

One step toward making healthy choices is to eat “real,” unprocessed food as much as possible. Fats that occur naturally in food are less of a concern than modified fats that are added in food processing. So, don’t worry so much about fat in meat and dairy and use natural oils, like olive oil. You will likely find that these “real” foods are not just better for you, but better tasting, too!


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
What can I help you with?
 drbrianparr@gmail.com | http://twitter.com/drbrianparr

When it comes to weight loss, calories count (but don’t count calories)

When it comes to losing weight, calories count. Thanks to a host of wearable devices and mobile apps, counting calories has never been easier. This matters because losing weight almost always means cutting the calories that you eat and increasing the calories that you burn. This concept of “eat less, move more” is the foundation of nearly every effective weight loss program. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

fitbit


Modern wearable devices and mobile apps allow you to track your weight, what you eat, and your activity fairly accurately. Many apps can measure the intensity of exercise by using the GPS and accelerometer features of your phone itself or by syncing with a wearable bracelet or belt clip. Some include heart rate to make the estimates even more precise. Using this technology, you can count steps, measure how many miles you walk or run, and estimate how many calories you burn.

Other apps can help you track what you eat. Whether you are counting calories or concerned about the amount of protein you are eating, diet analysis apps can show you what you are really eating. Most require you to enter the foods you eat and the app calculates calories, nutrients, sugar, salt, and water intake based on standard databases. In order to get accurate results, it is important to estimate portion sizes accurately, something that is challenging even for experts. That said, these apps can be useful for tracking what you eat to help you learn about your eating patterns to develop healthier habits or meet specific goals, such as eliminating added sugar from your diet.

Activity trackers and exercise apps are especially popular for improving fitness and promoting weight loss. Both the physical activity that you do throughout the day and dedicated exercise are important for good health, physical fitness, and weight control. This technology can help you know what to do, when to do it, and how much you did at the end of the day.

Even if you aren’t concerned about exactly how many calories your burned in an exercise class or how many steps you took during the day, these devices can help you develop healthier habits. Many people are simply unaware of how sedentary they are during the day or are unrealistic about how intense their workouts really are. For many people, an accurate report of how many steps they took or how many calories they burned is helpful for gauging their success and identifying things they can improve.

While these tools can be helpful, it is important to emphasize the importance of developing healthy habits in order to improve fitness, lose weight, or keep it off. A focus on “micromanaging” steps or calories may cause you to lose sight of the “big picture” changes you want to make. For example, you should strive to be as active as you can throughout the day, even if you have already met your step or calorie goal.

Keep in mind that there are very few people who failed to meet their fitness or weight loss goal because they didn’t have the latest activity tracker or fitness app. Real success comes from making lifestyle changes to incorporate healthy eating and activity habits that you can maintain without constant reminders. While technology can help you make those changes, it does not replace the dedication needed to develop lasting eating and activity habits to promote good health.


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
What can I help you with?
 drbrianparr@gmail.com | http://twitter.com/drbrianparr

Honesty is the best policy when it comes to your health

Have you ever justified your weight by saying you are “big-boned”? What about your eating and exercise habits? How often do you really eat out? How many days did you actually get to the gym last month? Are you being honest with yourself when it comes to your health? And are you asking others to be honest with you?

Being honest about your health is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.


Being honest with yourself is essential for initiating health behavior changes and setting good goals. For example, someone who tells themselves they need to lose “a few pounds” may really need to lose much more and may not take their weight loss as seriously as they should. Convincing yourself that you are doing more exercise than you really are may mean that you won’t see the fitness or weight loss results you were expecting.

This type of self-deception is easy to do. Take body weight for example. The current standard for determining if you are at a healthy weight is body mass index (BMI), calculated from your weight and height (kg/m2). It requires a bit of math, so using a mobile app or online calculator is a good idea.

A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered normal, 25-29.9 is overweight, and if your BMI is 30 or higher, you are classified as obese. To put this in perspective, a BMI of 30 is equivalent to about 25–30 pounds of excess fat.

Let’s say your BMI puts you in the obese category, suggesting you should lose weight. But then you think about an article you read about how BMI isn’t accurate because you can be considered obese if you have excess muscle, not fat. And then there was the story on the news suggesting that it is okay to be obese as long as you are physically fit. So, maybe you don’t need to worry about your weight!

See how easy it is to tell yourself that you don’t really need to lose weight? In reality, BMI is an accurate method of assessing your body fatness; the inaccuracies reported in the news almost always involve athletes or people with lots of muscle mass developed through physical labor. Be honest…is that really you? It’s also true that people who are fit and fat can be healthier than people who are thin and sedentary, but it requires a lot of exercise to reach that level of fitness. Again, are you really that fit?

Probably the best test is to take a good look in the mirror and be honest about what you see. Try to “pinch an inch” of fat around your belly. One inch isn’t necessarily a problem, but take notice if you can pinch a handful of fat. Measuring your waist circumference (or looking at your pants size) can give you the same information. People who have a high BMI because of extra muscle, like athletes, have thin waists. If your waist circumference is greater than 35 inches ( women) or 40 inches (men), you have excess fat.

This honesty also applies to others, including your doctor. Many physicians are reluctant to discuss weight and weight loss with their patients, and many patients don’t want to hear what they interpret as a personal attack. Don’t be one of those patients! Ask your doctor for an honest assessment about your weight and the impact it might have on your health.

This is a real problem. According to one report, only 39 percent of obese people surveyed had ever been told by a health care provider that they were obese.     To help combat this problem, the American Medical Association has developed resources to help physicians better communicate with patients about their weight.

Making changes to diet and activity habits is a difficult process, to be sure. Telling yourself that you don’t need to make them only delays getting started and can lead to poor health in the meantime. When it comes to your health, honesty is the best policy!


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
What can I help you with?
 drbrianparr@gmail.com | http://twitter.com/drbrianparr

How to survive an alien invasion. And other more likely threats to your health.

The film Independence Day: Resurgence, the sequel to the 1996 film, opened in theaters last week. The movie is about an alien attack that threatens to destroy the earth. The film has all the makings of a summer blockbuster and will certainly have people talking about alien invaders. It may even prompt some to prepare for an alien attack. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

Alien invasion


All evidence suggests that an alien invasion is highly unlikely. Just in case, though, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response has provided advice for surviving a host of disasters that are common in Hollywood blockbusters, including an alien attack. The intention is that preparing for epic disasters also means that you will be prepared for more realistic natural and man-made catastrophes.

I would like to share some health and fitness-related steps you can take to help you survive an alien invasion as well as other more likely threats to your health. After all, you are far more likely to suffer a heart attack than an alien attack, but it makes sense to prepare for both.

The first thing that is clear is that you need to be physically fit to escape or fight alien invaders. Roads and other transportation infrastructure tends to get destroyed in an extraterrestrial strike, so you may have to travel on foot and carry a heavy load of supplies, likely over long distances.

Building speed and endurance through prolonged aerobic exercise and high-intensity interval training can give you an advantage. Developing muscular strength through resistance training would certainly help, too. A comprehensive fitness program at a gym or at home can help you achieve these goals. Even going for a brisk walk everyday will help.

What you eat now can also help you prepare for the aftermath of an alien assault. Both running away from alien attackers and walking for days to a safer place requires that you have adequate stores of carbohydrate and fat. A high carbohydrate diet will increase your storage of muscle and liver glycogen, the primary fuels used for intense exercise so you will have more energy available to sprint and run.

Don’t overeat, though. Maintaining a healthy body weight is beneficial, too. The heavier you are, the more weight you have to carry in your escape, which is likely to slow you down.

Even though the possibility of an extraterrestrial apocalypse is remote, preparing now makes sense. Just as the CDC recommends that you be prepared for aliens in an effort to make sure you are ready for other more likely disaster scenarios, getting in shape to fight or flee attacking aliens also increases your chances of surviving more probable health threats.

Regular aerobic and strength exercise, maintaining a healthy body weight, and eating a healthy diet are the best ways by which you can reduce your risk of a host of health problems. The benefits of these healthy habits include a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, and some cancers along with prevention and treatment of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. These are exactly the type of risks you should be preparing for.

So, as you watch Independence Day: Resurgence think about what you can be doing now to prepare for both an alien invasion and more realistic threats to your health. Visit the CDC website to learn how to prepare for Hollywood-sized disaster scenarios as well as credible information about exercise, nutrition, and health. Then, get started on getting yourself in shape—the aliens will probably attack without warning!


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
What can I help you with?
 drbrianparr@gmail.com | http://twitter.com/drbrianparr

 

Supermarket Prepared Meals: What to Watch Out For – Consumer Reports

You know that many pre-packaged and restaurant meals are unhealthy and that you should cook at home. But what if you don’t have the time or inclination to cook dinner? Many people turn to the ready-to-eat meals and dishes at their local supermarket.

These foods are convenient, tasty, and look like they were prepared in the store using high quality, fresh ingredients. A healthy alternative to cooking at home or eating out, right? According to a recent report by Consumer Reports, maybe not.

This highlights the challenges we face when trying to make smart food choices, something I have written about before.

Source: Supermarket Prepared Meals: What to Watch Out For – Consumer Reports


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
What can I help you with?
 drbrianparr@gmail.com | http://twitter.com/drbrianparr

Your Heart Month action plan

Heart disease, sometimes called coronary artery disease, is the leading cause of death in the United States. Despite improvements in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment, it is still responsible for nearly 600,000 deaths each year, mostly from heart attacks. Millions more are at increased risk because of certain biological and behavioral risk factors. Some of these risk factors cannot be changed, such as age, sex, and family history, while others can be altered to reduce risk. These modifiable risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, and physical inactivity. You can learn much more about heart disease from the American Heart Association.

Since February is Heart Month, this is an ideal time to assess your own risk of heart disease and take steps to improve your heart health. If you aren’t sure where to begin, my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week includes four simple steps you can take to assess and lower your risk for heart disease. If you aren’t sure where to begin, these four steps should be a good start to prevent and treat heart disease.

Heart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Here is your Heart Month action plan:

  1. Assess your risk. If you haven’t done so recently, you should see your doctor to have your risk factors evaluated. This includes tests for blood glucose and blood lipids (including total, LDL, and HDL cholesterol and triglycerides), measurement of your blood pressure and body weight, and an assessment of other health factors such as your family history, whether you smoke, and your level of physical activity. You may be able to find a health fair or other event in the community at which you can have many of these measurements made, but only your doctor can help you determine the best course of treatment given your personal risk profile.
  1. Be active everyday. The benefits of as little as 30 minutes per day physical activity are well-established and impact heart disease risk in a multitude of ways. Physical activity helps with weight control, lowers blood pressure, improves blood lipids, and prevents and treats diabetes. Think of this as a great health “deal.” By modifying one risk factor—inactivity—you can also promote beneficial changes in four others—obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes. There is no other treatment, drugs included, that can have such a broad impact on reducing heart disease risk!
  1. Improve your diet. If you are like most Americans, your diet is too high in unhealthy fats, salt, and added sugar and lacking adequate whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and fiber. This type of diet is associated with obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. All of these conditions are risk factors for heart disease, so you may literally be eating your way to a heart attack. Changing what you eat to include more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat meat and dairy and minimizing added sugars, fat, and processed foods can help you lose weight and prevent or treat high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
  1. Quit smoking. There is no way around this one—quit! Ask your doctor about prescription medications that can make quitting easier. Nicotine replacement therapy in the form of patches, gum, and lozenges can help manage cravings and are available over the counter. Ultimately, though, quitting smoking is a behavior change that takes motivation, willpower, and time. But it is worth it—your risk of heart attack goes down within days and can drop 50–70% within five years after quitting.

The potential impact of these steps is great. Knowing which risk factors are most concerning can help you and your doctor make the most effective treatment decisions. Even modest changes in diet and activity can lead to improvements in risk factors and reduced heart attack risk. The best news is that you can start today by putting down your next cigarette, going for a walk, and eating a healthier dinner. Your heart will be glad you did.


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
What can I help you with?
 drbrianparr@gmail.com | http://twitter.com/drbrianparr

 

Follow the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans? Would if I could.

The most recent update to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans was released earlier this month. This is the latest attempt to provide us with information about what we should eat—and not eat—to stay healthy. The new guidelines, and why they may be difficult for many people to follow, are the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

Good food display


Like past updates, there is some debate about the recommendations in the current guidelines. Uncertainly about the role that specific foods and nutrients (saturated fat, for example) play in promoting health and political influence from segments of the food industry are causes for criticism of these guidelines.

Despite the controversy, the guidelines do provide some good advice for us to follow. For example, they recommend that we eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, something that almost everyone agrees is healthy. Refined and processed grains should be limited in favor of whole, unrefined grains. Furthermore, added sugars should be avoided. There is good support for these recommendations, and the distinction is a welcome one. The recommendations for fat are a bit less clear, but the guidelines steer us toward “healthier” fats from plants, including nuts and seeds.

No doubt, everyone could experience some health benefits from eating more fruits and vegetables, favoring whole grains over refined, and limiting the consumption of processed foods containing added sugars. In my mind, the problem isn’t the recommendations themselves (although I might make some changes), it’s the fact that following them is challenging, if not impossible, for many people.

First, access to fresh fruits and vegetables is limited for many people, either by availability or by cost. The well-meaning advice to shop the perimeter of the grocery store avoids many of the unhealthy processed foods that are found in the center aisles of most stores, but it also results in a cart filled with more expensive produce, dairy, and meat. Many people simply can’t afford or shop this way, so the prepackaged, processed foods and meals are practically a necessity.

Second, making smart decisions in the grocery store and in restaurants requires that you have some nutrition knowledge. At the very least, reading food labels is essential. Unfortunately, the “label language” used to make nutrition claims on the front of packages and the less-than-complete information on the Nutrition Facts panel makes this challenging. Claims like “fat free” and “no high-fructose corn syrup” may seem to indicate a healthier choice, when in reality these foods are often no better than the alternatives on the next shelf.

Even though interpreting and following the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans can be challenging, it is still important to try. Making real food, as opposed to processed, prepackaged “food,” your first choice whenever possible will go a long way toward making your diet healthier. This will certainly involve putting more thought into what you eat, and you may find yourself preparing more meals at home rather than eating out.

And try not to worry too much about the debate about which foods and nutrients are the healthiest. If you select food that is as close to its natural state as possible you are likely to make good choices. For example, choose plain beef, poultry, and fish as opposed to flavored, cured meats. The same is true for dairy products like yogurt—watch out for lots of added sugar!

Regardless of what the current and future Dietary Guidelines say, you should strive to follow advice of author Michael Pollan: Eat food, not too much.


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
What can I help you with?
 drbrianparr@gmail.com | http://twitter.com/drbrianparr