Frying With Olive, Sunflower Oil OK for Heart

6Researchers in Spain have some good news for people who enjoy eating fried food: Cooking in olive or sunflower oil is not linked to heart disease or premature death.

Because heart disease risk factors — such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity — have been linked to eating fried foods, the study authors decided to investigate the association.

For the study, the researchers examined the cooking habits and health of nearly 41,000 adults, aged 29 to 69, who did not have heart disease at the start of the 11-year study. The participants were split into four groups depending on how much fried food they consumed.

The study authors pointed out that because their research was conducted in Spain, where olive and sunflower oil are used for cooking, the findings may not apply in other countries where other types of oil are more commonly used. For example, when food is fried in solid and re-used oils (as in the Western diet), it absorbs the fat of the oils, which increases the calories of the food.

There were 606 heart disease-related events and 1,134 deaths during the study follow-up period, according to the report published in the Jan. 24 online edition of the BMJ.

“In a Mediterranean country where olive and sunflower oils are the most commonly used fats for frying, and where large amounts of fried foods are consumed both at and away from home, no association was observed between fried food consumption and the risk of coronary heart disease or death,” according to the research team, led by Pilar Guallar-Castillon from Autonomous University of Madrid.

In an accompanying editorial, Michael Leitzmann, from the University of Regensburg in Germany, wrote that the findings challenge the belief that “frying food is generally bad for the heart.”

However, he added that this “does not mean that frequent meals of fish and chips will have no health consequences.” Specific aspects of frying food, such as the type of oil used, are important, Leitzmann noted.

Women Tell 474 Diet Lies a Year, Survey Says

3Weight loss takes a lot of personal accountability — you have to make yourself exercise, watch what you eat, and limit your portions. But according to a new survey of 3,000 UK women, women constantly overstate how responsible they are — about 474 times a year, or 9 times per week.

In a survey conducted by Timex, (who’s releasing a new body-monitoring device for dieters) women fessed up to lying to themselves and others more than once a day about their less-than-perfect eating habits.

The single most popular lie? “It was only a small portion.”

The foods that spurred women to lie the most included desserts, cheese, bread, fries and burgers, wine, and beer, the survey found. Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed said they try their best to eat well, but admitted to slipping up occasionally. More than 40 percent lied to others about their healthy habits, simply to give off the impression that they are healthier than they really are.

Here, the top 10 lies women tell about their diets:

1. It was only a small portion.
2. I’ll have a big lunch, so I won’t eat much after this.
3. I treat myself only once in a while.
4. I always eat my five fruits and vegetables a day.
5. I didn’t touch any of the biscuits.
6. I had only one glass.
7. I didn’t eat the last one.
8. I won’t eat again today after this.
9. I was too busy to have lunch.
10. I might as well polish them off now, or they’ll go bad.

If you’ve told one (or more) of these lies today, try these no-fail ways to stay accountable:

Use your scale. A national survey of 4,345 adults found that those who weighed themselves daily were more likely to lose weight and keep it off than those who inconsistently weighed themselves.
Track calories. If you need meal-by-meal accountability, monitor your calories consumed and burned on your computer and on your smartphone with a system such as Everyday Health’s My Calorie Counter.
Find a diet buddy. Partner up with a friend who has similar weight-loss goals, and every time you slip up, be honest with your buddy — and yourself.

Trendy Foods With Serious Health Benefits

2Agave
This sugar substitute is made from cacti, and is thought to be a healthy alternative to granulated sugar in baking. “Cup for cup, agave and table sugar are about equal in the calorie department, but because agave is about 1.5 times sweeter than table sugar, you can use less of it to reach the same sweetness,” says Rania Batayneh, MPH, a nutritionist and owner of Essential Nutrition for You, a nutrition consulting firm. Agave’s main benefit, she says, is that it scores low on the glycemic index — between 15 and 30 compared with table sugar’s 65. “This means that consumption won’t result in dangerous spikes in blood sugar that table sugar so often causes, making it a possible safe alternative for diabetics,” says Batayneh.

If you’re trying to cut calories for weight loss, agave doesn’t offer much of a benefit, Batayneh says. Instead, stick to a zero-calorie sugar substitute like stevia, or better yet, skip refined sugar foods altogether.

Nondairy Milk
For the lactose-intolerant and those wanting to avoid all animal foods, rice milk, almond milk, and soy milk are becoming increasingly popular food trends for good nutrition. “More and more people are becoming sensitive to dairy products,” says Sally Kravich, MS, a natural health expert and consultant in New York City. “I recommend almond milk and rice milk to many of my clients. For those who have a sensitive digestive system, rice milk is best. For those who are vegans and need more protein and naturally occurring calcium, I recommend almond milk. I only recommend soy milk to women who need to boost their hormones or for older men with prostate issues.”

If you’re watching your sugar intake, try an unsweetened nondairy milk, as most brands have either no sugar or less sugar than naturally occurs in dairy milk. Plus, nondairy milks are often fortified with extra calcium or vitamin D.

Almond Butter
Almond butter is another almond-based food trend that has some advantages over conventional peanut butter. “I brought up my own children on almond butter,” Kravich says. “Almond butter is preferable over peanut butter as it contains more protein and less sugar than the peanut.”

Still, it’s important to eat nut butters in moderation, as most varieties are heavy in calories and fat.

The Paleo Diet: Sample Menu

5Breakfast: onion and spinach omelet with liver pâté
Lunch: tuna wrapped in lettuce with almonds
Snack: hard-boiled eggs
Dinner: beef bourguignon
Dessert: ice cream made from coconut milk

The Paleo Diet: Pros
By eating fruits and vegetables, you’ll get many of the essential vitamins and minerals you need.
The diet is simple. You eat the foods that are acceptable and avoid those that are not — there’s no prepacked meal plan or diet cycles to stick to.
The diet emphasizes exercise. Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle and can help you lose or maintain your weight.
The Paleo Diet: Cons
A hunter-gatherer diet can be difficult to maintain, especially long term. Because most foods are eaten plain, it can get boring after a short time.
It can be expensive — foods that are organically grown as well as grass-fed beef and other meats typically cost more.
There’s no scientific proof that the Paleo or hunter-gatherer diet wards off disease, Sandon says. Any evidence of its benefits is anecdotal.
The Paleo Diet: Short-Term and Long-Term Effects
You could lose weight following a Paleolithic diet — quickly, depending on how strictly you adhere to the foods from the allowed list and how much physical exercise you add to your daily routine.

Long term, you have to be sure you’re getting calcium and other nutrients you’re missing by not having dairy products and certain grains. Some Paleo-approved foods such as salmon and spinach contain calcium, so you have to be sure you’re including them in your diet.

“Nobody knows the long-term effects of this diet because no one has researched it to any degree,” Sandon says. It’s not really a new concept; instead it’s one that’s been recycled through the years, she adds.

The Paleo Diet

4Obesity, heart disease, diabetes: These are just a few of the health conditions that proponents of the Paleolithic Diet or Caveman Diet blame on our sedentary lifestyles and modern diets, which are loaded with sugars, fats, and processed foods. The solution? Cut “modern” foods from our diets and return to the way our early hunter-gatherer ancestors ate.

To get an idea of what that means, we turned to Loren Cordain, PhD, a professor in the department of health and exercise science at Colorado State University and author of The Paleo Diet. To be and stay healthy, Cordain says, exercise regularly and follow a strict diet of only foods that can be hunted and gathered.

The Paleo Diet: What Is It?
In its purest form, the Paleo Diet allows only those foods that man ate when he first roamed the planet millions of years ago.

Foods to eat on the Paleo Diet:

Lean cuts of beef, pork, and poultry, preferably grass-fed, organic, or free-range.
Game animals, such as quail, venison, and bison.
Eggs (no more than six a week).
Fish, including shellfish.
Fruit, such as strawberries, cantaloupe, mango, and figs.
Nonstarchy vegetables, such as asparagus, onions, peppers, and pumpkin.
Nuts and seeds, including almonds, cashews, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds.
Olive oil, flaxseed oil, and walnut oil (in moderation).
Foods to avoid on the Paleo Diet:

All dairy products, including milk, cheese, yogurt, and butter.
Cereal grains, such as wheat, rye, rice, and barley.
Legumes (beans, peanuts, peas).
Starchy vegetables, such as potatoes and sweet potatoes.
Sweets — all forms of candy as well as honey and sugar.
Sugary soft drinks and fruit juices.
Processed and cured meats, such as bacon, deli meats, and hot dogs.
The Paleo Diet: How Does It Work?
The diet can improve your health by eliminating high-fat and processed foods that have little nutritional value and too many calories. It emphasizes loading up on fruits and vegetables that are bursting with healthy vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which fills you up faster so you eat less.

You’ll lose weight because any time you restrict whole food groups, your calorie intake is lower, says Lona Sandon, MEd, RD, an assistant professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. Whenever you burn more calories than you consume, this equals out to weight loss, she says. The focus on lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables over sodium-rich processed foods can also contribute to weight loss, though she also points out that the Paleo Diet wasn’t created to be a weight-loss diet.

Note that though nuts and seeds are allowed on this diet, they can be high in calories, and people who want to lose weight will have to limit consumption of them.

Healthy Food, Healthy Life

10Jared Koch always had an interest in health and even wanted to be a doctor, but he put those plans on hold early in his career to pursue an entrepreneurial path. After graduating pre-med from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Koch delayed enrollment to the Albert Einstein Medical School to launch a successful entertainment company with his brother.

Despite his corporate success, Koch still felt the need to attend to the health and wellness of others. He sold his stake in the entertainment business and began 10 years of wellness study with the likes of Drs. Andrew Weil and Deepak Chopra and raw food guru David Wolfe. After becoming a certified nutritionist, Koch created Clean Plates as a resource for his clients who wanted to have access to healthy food options on-the-go. First written as a guide to Manhattan’s healthiest eateries, the book has since expanded to include restaurants in Brooklyn and Los Angeles.

“I realized that educating and supporting my clients was important, but what was consistently leading to real change was providing them with practical resources that made it easy and enjoyable for them to find and eat better quality food,” he explains.

Written to appeal to foodies across the board, the Clean Plates books and Web site point food lovers to the healthiest and most sustainable neighborhood restaurants around from quick bites to fine dining. Whether you’re a carnivore, vegan, or somewhere in between, Clean Plates help you make informed eating choices and highlight hot spots that serve locally grown, organic, and sustainably raised animal foods.

My health story: I’m a nutrition consultant, and about three years ago I started Clean Plates as an extension of my work with clients. After I sold the entertainment business I ran with my brother, I started studying nutrition and got certified as a nutritional consultant through the Teachers College of Columbia University in New York. I also teach meditation. I am very dedicated to making it easier and more enjoyable for people to eat and live healthier.

My future health projects: We’re launching an iPhone app this month, as well as a brand new Clean Plates Web site with more editorial content than ever before. I’m also working on a book to be published by Running Press, which will be released in Fall 2012.

My favorite healthy habit: Cooking and eating deliciously prepared vegetables. I honestly crave vegetables if I go a little while without eating them. I also love fruit.

My health hero: People who make the choice and effort to put better quality foods into their bodies.

My practice for what I preach: Other than a tiny taste of dessert every once in a blue moon, or if it’s been slipped into something without my realizing it, I haven’t eaten any refined sugar for several years.

My best health tip: I think I have two. No matter what your diet is today, just adding more vegetables will have a positive impact. Making small changes over time will lead to big results. Also, if you do decide to indulge, eat it, enjoy it, and forget about it. Stress and guilt are worse than some unhealthy food.

Those Extra Pounds Could Harm Your Back

9Previous research has linked having a higher body-mass index (BMI), which is a measurement that takes into account a person’s height and weight, to reports of low back pain. This type of pain can affect physical and mental well-being, limit mobility, reduce quality of life and is associated with substantial financial costs for both the patient and the health care system.

The new study included more than 1,000 men and nearly 1,600 women aged 21 and older from southern China. Overall, 73 percent of the participants had lumbar disc degeneration, but the condition was more common in men than women (76 percent vs. 71 percent) and more prevalent among older people, according to the study in the new issue of the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism.

Seven percent of the study participants were underweight, 48 percent were in the normal weight range, 36 percent were overweight and 9 percent were obese, the investigators noted.

“Our research confirms that with elevated BMI there is a significant increase in the extent and global severity of disc degeneration. In fact, end-stage disc degeneration with narrowing of the disc space was more pronounced in obese individuals,” Dr. Dino Samartzis, of the University of Hong Kong, said in a journal news release.

As people gain weight, disc degeneration may begin to occur due to physical loading on the disc, the study authors suggested. In addition, fat cells may play a role by causing chronic low-grade inflammation, they noted.

“Since overweight and obesity are worldwide concerns whose prevalence continues to rise, our study’s findings have considerable public health implications. If these issues continue to plague society, they can further affect spine health leading to low back pain and its consequences,” Samartzis said.

Disc degeneration is a complex process and future studies that investigate risk factors for the condition should take into account the effects of being overweight or obese, the researchers recommended.

A Shame-Free McDonald’s Menu

3Enjoy McDonald’s without your friends knowing you enjoy McDonald’s! That’s the slogan behind the Shame Mask, comedy team Jest’s solution for anyone who feels ashamed about their penchant for fast food (watch the video below the fold). As the video parody shows, with this creepy white mask covering your face, you can now scarf down your calorie-laden fast food — without fear of judgment from your coworkers, friends, and random passersby. Jest’s version of a McDonald’s commercial even has an updated slogan, “Stop judging me!”

If the idea of a Shame Mask rings a little too true for you, we have some more practical and healthful alternatives. Below, our top tips for keeping your fast food habits in check.

1. Order smartly. If you have to eat at McDonald’s or another fast food joint, know how to navigate the menu. According to the company’s nutritional data, a Southwest salad with grilled chicken clocks in at only 290 calories. Stick to the recommended serving size of dressing (two tablespoons) and you have a healthful lunch. For breakfast, you can’t beat a classic Egg McMuffin, which has only 300 calories. A regular hamburger has only 250 calories — less than the seemingly healthy fillet of fish or classic chicken sandwich — so you can still have your burger and eat it, too, if you know how to order.

2. Indulge cravings occasionally. On those days when a greasy McDonald’s French fry is all you want in this world, it’s okay to give in every once and a while, as long as it’s not a habit. Order a small fry for just 230 calories — and that’s it. Better yet, share your fries with a friend.

3. Drink more water. If you constantly crave salty foods, you could just be dehydrated. Keep a water bottle handy throughout the day, and keep it filled. It will help keep you full and hydrated, and drinking water may help keep your mind off of your food cravings.

4. Find healthful alternatives. Sugar, salt, chocolate: No matter what your craving of choice is, it’s bound to hit at one time or another when you’re trying to watch your weight. When it does, be prepared. Instead of salty fast food, try a homemade burger, fresh salad, and air-popped popcorn. By preparing food at home, you’re skipping damaging the additives and added fat and calories from fast food.

5. Plan your meals in advance. We know a lot of people eat fast food because it’s, well, fast! But eating healthy on the run is as simple as planning ahead. Stash portable snacks such as whole, fresh fruit, fiber-filled snack bars, and string cheese in your bag so you’ll be prepared when hunger hits. If you’re at the office or another place where you can store food, get in the habit of bringing your lunch. A study of 24,000 European office workers found that those who ate out for lunch were more likely to have higher body mass indexes and be at a higher risk for obesity.

The argument that we cannot afford to do even better is spurious

8Congress also refused to allow the USDA to limit servings of potatoes. Those congressional directions must be incorporated into the final rule, the AP reported.

The news service said that potato growers, companies that make frozen pizzas for schools and others in the food industry lobbied for the changes made by Congress, and that conservatives said the government shouldn’t be telling children what to eat.

Some school districts objected to some of the requirements, saying they went too far and would cost too much, the AP said.

Katz said, “It is unacceptable that food industry elements lobbied Congress successfully for changes in nutrition standards that placed profits ahead of children’s health.

“The argument that we cannot afford to do even better is spurious, because it leaves us needing to afford the treatment of type 2 diabetes in children. It leaves us needing to pay for bariatric surgery in adolescents,” he added.

Still, the changes signal some progress, Katz said. “We should not expect it to change childhood obesity rates. School lunch was never the cause of epidemic obesity, and improving it will not be the cure. But school lunch has long been part of the problem and these improved standards will help make it one part of a comprehensive solution, now long overdue,” he said.

Heller rejected the argument that children will not eat healthier foods.

“When given the time, exposure and encouragement as well as altering environmental influences, kids will eat healthy foods when available,” she said. “Just putting fresh fruit by the cafeteria check-out in schools increases consumption by schoolchildren considerably. Making fresh, healthy foods delicious and explaining to kids how and why good nutrition is critical for them to do well in their favorite activities such as sports, art or science, will also boost consumption,” Heller said.

“Food companies, lobbyists, and members of Congress would do well to step up to the plate and start setting good examples of healthy eating and lifestyles,” Heller added.

The new rule is based on recommendations from a panel of experts from the Institute of Medicine and also updated changes from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Less Salt, More Veggies in School Lunches

7First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack unveiled on Wednesday new standards for school meals — the first revisions in more than 15 years. The goal: To provide healthier meals and better nutrition for the nearly 32 million children who take part in school meal programs.

The new standards include offering fruits and vegetables every day, increasing whole grain-rich foods, serving only fat-free or low-fat milk, limiting calories based on children’s ages, and reducing the amounts of saturated fat, trans fats and sodium, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Mrs. Obama and Vilsack, who were joined by celebrity chef Rachael Ray, made the announcement at an elementary school in Alexandria, Va.

“As parents, we try to prepare decent meals, limit how much junk food our kids eat, and ensure they have a reasonably balanced diet,” Mrs. Obama said in a news release. “And when we’re putting in all that effort, the last thing we want is for our hard work to be undone each day in the school cafeteria. When we send our kids to school, we expect that they won’t be eating the kind of fatty, salty, sugary foods that we try to keep them from eating at home.”

In the same statement, Vilsack said, “Improving the quality of the school meals is a critical step in building a healthy future for our kids.”

Dr. David Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine, said that “these changes to school food standards are welcome, commendable and unquestionably helpful in efforts to combat childhood obesity and all of the metabolic mayhem that follows in its wake.”

Still, Katz doesn’t think the changes go far enough.

And they aren’t as complete as the Obama administration had wanted, according to the Associated Press.

Last year, Congress blocked some of the agriculture department’s planned revisions, including cutting down how often french fries and pizza could be served, the news agency said.

In November, Congress passed a bill requiring the agriculture department to continue to count tomato paste on pizzas as a vegetable, the AP reported.

“Making healthier pizza is a great idea. However, it is unfortunate and rather ridiculous that Congress still thinks tomato paste is a vegetable,” said dietitian Samantha Heller, clinical nutrition coordinator at the Center for Cancer Care at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Conn.