Additives sure aren’t adding to your health.
A frighteningly large portion of the calories and sugar North Americans eat comes from ultra-processed foods, which are tinkered with even more than regularly processed foods and may contribute to serious health issues like Type 2 diabetes, according to a new study.
Researchers from Tufts University and the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil found that ultra-processed foods are responsible for almost 60 percent of all the calories North Americans consume and about 90 percent of all added sugars they eat.
“The content of added sugars in ultra-processed foods was eightfold higher than in processed foods and fivefold higher than in unprocessed or minimally processed foods and processed culinary ingredients grouped together,” they write in the study published Wednesday in BMJ Open.
Added sugars should make up only about 10 percent of a person’s total caloric intake, the researchers note – however, they found that more than 80 percent of North Americans typically exceed this recommended limit.
Processed foods generally have added oils and salt. Ultra-processed foods are different because they’re enhanced with other additives, including colors, artificial flavoring and sweeteners, the study says.
Researchers say the top ultra-processed foods that North Americans consume are:
- Cakes, cookies and pie
- Salty snacks
- Frozen meals
- Soft drinks and fruit drinks
- Ice cream
- French fries
For the study, researchers conducted at-home interviews and health examinations with 9,317 people of all ages, who also provided them with information about what they ate for a 24-hour period. The researchers say their study is the first to examine the relationship between ultra-processed foods and sugar intake in the U.S.
Eating excess amounts of added sugars is “most likely” contributing to health issues such as obesity, high blood pressure and coronary heart disease, the study warns.
The best thing to do is to entirely cut out these foods from your diet, the researchers say. That may sound easier said than done – and maybe even impossible, especially when life gets really busy. One way to do this is to avoid replacing water, pasteurized fresh milk and freshly squeezed fruit juices by soft drinks or flavored fruit drinks, said Professor Carlos A. Monteiro, one of the study’s authors.
Preparing at least some fresh foods at home rather than buying a lot of packaged meals will help decrease sugar intake, Monteiro added. And when you do buy packaged foods, be sure to look at the ingredient labels – even items like deli meats often contain sugar.
It’s Not Your Fault That You Eat So Much Sugar
Consumers don’t even want all this cloying sweetness. Manufacturers made the decision for them.
Consumers’ most common complaint about taste? “Too sweet.”
Americans tend to associate our health problems with sin. It’s hard to find a health story in the press that doesn’t blame greed and lack of willpower for our ongoing epidemics of obesity and diabetes as well as a recent upturn in the rate of heart disease. But the problems stem more from a greedy food industry than from any weakness in consumers. Our supermarket shelves are filled with items made with cheap ingredients, especially sugar and corn syrup, whether people want it or not.
A fascinating new study out of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia showed that among 400,000 food reviews on Amazon.com, the primary complaint was that food was too sweet. People used terms like “syrupy, overwhelmingly or cloyingly sweet,” said behavioral geneticist Danielle Reed, who led the research. She and her colleagues used a machine- learning program to sort through the thousands of reviews covering 67,553 products.
The finding was a surprise; she had designed the study to add to her body of work on the way people vary in the perception of bitterness. Genetic differences make some people much more sensitive to bitter tastes than others, and this can affect whether we love or hate vegetables such as broccoli and kale. She was surprised, she said, that on Amazon reviews, consumers rarely complained about bitterness, or saltiness for that matter. They complained about sweetness. Manufacturers may think they are sweetening things to suit a common taste, in which case they are getting it wrong – but the market is full of oversweetened foods, so the manufacturers mostly don’t lose customers to better-tasting competitors.
Or the problem may be that manufacturers are trying to use the cheapest possible ingredients in a way that consumers will still tolerate. Sugar is cheap, and corn syrup even cheaper. In his book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” author Michael Pollan recounts the way the introduction of corn syrup in the late 20th century tempted manufacturers add as much as possible to many processed foods and to lure consumers with giant sodas and other supersized products that felt like bargains but came with hidden costs. Later, the medical dogma that fat was deadly lead to an explosion of extremely sweet low-fat products as well.
However we got here, it’s clear that the empty calories are contributing to epidemics of obesity in the U.S. and elsewhere. The food police should rethink chastising consumers and turn their attention on the true culprits who are dishing it out.
Canadian Paediatric Society calls for shift away from shaming, blaming and other types of negative discipline
The latest parenting advice from Canada’s pediatricians is to shift away from shaming, blaming and any other types of negative discipline to what they call positive parenting.
Positive parenting is a set of principles to correct children’s misbehaviour with greater empathy and communication and less punishment — and sticking with it at the times when it’s most challenging. Experts say positive parenting fosters loving, predictable and secure relationships between a child and their parent or guardian.
The Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) said in its latest position statement, released Thursday, that this is the first time it is asking all primary care practitioners to encourage positive parenting. Doing so, the society says, buffers against the effects of stressors and traumatic events.
Gold-standard randomized trials have demonstrated how positive parenting techniques are more effective at reducing negative behaviour in children, said Jenny Jenkins, the Atkinson Chair of Early Child Development and Education at the University of Toronto. Jenkins, a clinical and developmental psychologist, wasn’t involved in the position statement.
“Negative comments, negativity or harshness towards children has been shown to be much more problematic developmentally for kids,” Jenkins said.
‘Pick their battles’
Positive parenting techniques provide a better relationship between parents and children.
“Rather than parents getting mad at kids and being irritable with them and negative with them, the interaction becomes a more positive one,” she said.
If parents ignore the low-level problematic things that kids often do and intervene only when there’s a safety concern or really bad behaviour, then their interactions with a child can shift in a more positive direction.
“The parents are trying to pick their battles,” Jenkins said.
But today’s parents may be at a loss on how to practise positive parenting since many of their parents didn’t use it with them, said Dr. Andrea Feller, a member of the CPS’s early years task force that wrote the position statement.
Past parenting advice was well intentioned and based on what was known at the time, she said. But experts in child brain development no longer recommend discipline that includes punishments like shaming and blaming.
Experts say positive parenting fosters loving, predictable and secure relationships between a child and their parent or guardian. the Canadian Paediatric Society, in a new position statement, is for first time asking all primary care practitioners to encourage positive parenting.
Feller encourages parents who feel conflicted between the way they were raised and adopting positive parenting to trust themselves.
“Parents are a child’s first, best and most important teacher,” said Feller,a pediatrician in the Niagara Region and a mother of two children under 12.
In fact, the CPS said the reason behind the new statement is that while there are many factors that can put kids at risk for developmental problems, parenting is one that can be easily changed. The focus is on children aged zero to six years.
Recommendations to doctors
One way parents can get guidance is at the doctor’s office. The CPS is encouraging pediatricians and family doctors to be comfortable asking parents about their relationship with a child and how well the family is coping.
At every visit, clinicians should ask questions about a child’s behaviours and family routines, such as “What is your child’s bedtime routine?”
Parents of young children commonly ask doctors for advice on crying, sleep and challenging behaviours, so that could serve as an opening for those types of conversations.
Clinicians are also encouraged to broach difficult and sometimes uncomfortable topics, such as trauma, and ask questions like “Has anything stressful happened to you or your family since I last saw you?”
To promote positive parenting behaviours, the society’s other recommendations to clinicians include:
- Ask if there is a consistent caregiver, since that is a protective factor.
- Model communication skills by being open, predictable, kind and curious.
- Promote shared reading by families.
- Incorporate family-friendly hours and proactive scheduling into their practice (e.g. “Let’s make an appointment for early next month” versus “Come back if you’re having difficulties.”)
Primary care providers can also direct parents to positive parenting books or free community supports such as local early years centres.
Shift to time ins
The document also included a section on time outs and time ins.
A time out creates a brief break in the child’s behaviours, even if it’s a positive one such as expressing curiosity or reaching for a hug. In a time in, on the other hand, the caregiver invites the child to sit and talk about feelings and behaviour in an age-appropriate way.
“Time outs have a place,” Feller said, but should be considered a “last resort,” since time outs can drift inappropriately into punishment.
What’s more, time outs have no place in disciplining children under the age of three, who only understand that a parent or caregiver has turned them away. Often, Feller added, it is the parent who needs a break.
Feller noted social workers and early childhood educators already encourage positive discipline.
Now medical professionals are making the shift toward helping parents recognize that a young child’s misbehaviour is often a way for them to communicate: “I can’t handle things right now. I need your help.”
Pediatrician Daniel Flanders, founder and director of Kindercare Pediatrics in Toronto, said the position statement is reasonable.
“It’s a positive step in right direction, but it’s a really small one,” Flanders said. What’s missing is practical ways to help parents implement it.
“It’s all fair and good to say this is how parents should parent, but it’s a whole other ball game when a single mom is trying to make it through the day, and she doesn’t really have any resources or any support to really help her parent in all the ways this position statement is encouraging.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amina Zafar has covered health, medical and science news at CBC since 2000. She has a degree in environmental science and a master’s in journalism.
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Does sugar make kids hyper? That’s largely a myth
The idea of a link between sugar and hyperactivity in children dates to the 1970s, when the Feingold diet was prescribed by a pediatrician with the same name as an eating plan to alleviate symptoms of ADHD.
“His diet eliminated artificial flavorings, sweeteners and preservatives — and so sugar kind of got lumped in, as well,” King said.
This diet may have led parents to perceive that sugar is a culprit when it comes to kids’ excitable behavior — even if it is not the true cause of one’s hyperactivity.
In one study from the mid-’90s, researchers gave children a drink containing a sugar substitute. One group of moms was told that their kids were drinking a high-sugar drink; the other group was told the truth, that their kids were consuming a sugar substitute. Mothers who were told that their kids consumed sugar rated their kids as more hyperactive, even though they didn’t consume any sugar.
“Just thinking their children were consuming sugar caused moms to perceive their children as being more hyperactive,” King said.
“When children consume sugar, it’s usually around something fun: holidays, birthdays, celebrations; there’s already that excitement there,” she said. “I don’t think you can say the sugar made them run around and play with friends. … That would be very hard to separate out.”
Instead, a release of the hormone adrenaline might explain a child’s overly energetic behavior. “It’s a flight or flight hormone; when you are excited or fearful, it increases heart rate and directs blood flow to the muscles, which may make children more antsy and have the urge to keep moving, so you may be perceiving that as hyperactivity,” King said.
According to Castle, lots of sugary foods can also equate to elevated amounts of food dyes, artificial flavors or other additives that could be problematic for a child with ADHD, often making it difficult to tease out whether sugar is the culprit.Complicating the issue is the fact that we don’t have a way to determine whether there is a link. “Is there a biomarker? A hormone level?” King asked. “It’s disheartening for parents. … They want answers. And unfortunately, nutrition is such an individual thing.”
Sugar and hyperactivity: Positive link or parent perception?
To try to determine whether your child is truly sugar-sensitive or just excited about a celebration, Castle recommends eliminating sugary foods from the diet for a few weeks and then testing the child with a sugary food like soda, frosted cake or a tablespoon of sugar in 100% juice, and watching the child’s response. “It may be a quick way to determine how sugar may be affecting the child,” Castle said.
Then again, like the parents in that study, you may just think they’re being hyper just because you know that they consumed sugar.
Tips for parents
Even though most kids don’t have a sugar sensitivity, that doesn’t mean sugar is good for their health. Sugary foods and beverages deliver calories without any nutrients. What’s more, eating foods high in added sugars throughout childhood is linked to the development of risk factors for heart disease, such as an increased risk of obesity and elevated blood pressure in children and young adults.
To keep kids healthy, the American Heart Association recommends that children ages 2 to 18 consume less than 6 teaspoons – or 24 grams – of added sugars daily. To put that number in perspective, consider that 24 grams is the amount of sugar in just one 1.55-ounce chocolate bar. A 12-ounce can of regular soda contains about 40 grams of sugar, well over a day’s worth.
If you are looking for ways to cut back on sweets for your children, here are some tips to get started:
Gradually reduce the amount of sweets in your child’s diet. This is good advice for all kids, with and without ADHD. “I teach the 90/10 Rule for the appropriate balance of nourishing foods and sweets and treats, which equates to one to two normal-sized portions of sweets or treats each day, on average,” Castle said. If there seems to be a strong sensitivity to sweets, Castle recommends removing sweets and added sugar from the diet as best as you can.
Establish routine meals and snacks on a predictable schedule. “Anecdotally, this is one of the main things I work on with families, and they tell me they feel their child is calmer and better-behaved. There is something to be said for nourishing the brain and body on predictable, consistent intervals of three to four hours,” Castle said.
When introducing foods with added sugars, pair them with protein, healthy fat or fiber. This helps to blunt the effects of blood sugar surges and drops, and it optimizes satiety.
Castle and King suggest the following combinations:
- Cookies with milk
- Candy or chocolate with nut butter on crackers
- Ice cream with nuts or oatmeal crumble topping
- Cake with milk or milk alternative
Experts say you can also include your treat as part of a snack or meal. “If you’re at a party, try veggies and hummus and then having some dessert!” King said. “Or eat a small, sensible meal with lean protein, like turkey meat; add some cheese and baby carrots, and then add a fun treat or small sugar-sweetened beverage.”
Don’t eat sugar on an empty stomach. Doing so can lead to a surge in blood sugar, and that itself may alter a child’s behavior, according to Castle.
Make sure that your child is drinking plenty of water. Also, avoid sugar-sweetened beverages on top of eating sugary foods, King advised.
Don’t hype up sugar. If you don’t have sugar and candies in your house often, and you bring sweets home and make a big deal about it, your child may pick up on it and become excited, King explained.
Hard boiled egg + salad
Out of all the numerous topping options at the salad bar, pick up a hard boiled egg. The fat in the egg yolk helps your body best absorb carotenoids, disease-busting antioxidants found in veggies, according to 2015 research in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Count it as one more reason you should definitely eat the yolks.
Fries + veggies
You don’t want to have to choose between the steamed veggie or fries as a side. Why not get them both? Pairing a nutritious and less-nutritious food choice (officially called a ‘vice-virtue bundle’) can help you stick to your health goals, suggests research in the journal Management Science. One tip to balance the calories—keep your portion of fries/dessert/onion rings small or medium, suggest researchers. If you can order only one size and it’s jumbo, ask for half to be packed upie immediately in a to-go box—or portion out half the plate for a companion. The researchers found that people didn’t actually want to eat enormous piles of treats anyway.
Marinade + steak
Grilling is a quick and healthy way to get dinner on the table, no doubt. However, cooking meat at high temps (a la grilling) creates potentially cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs). The delicious solution: marinate your meat. Especially when you use certain herbs and spices in your marinade, including rosemary, it can reduce HCAs by up to 88 percent, according to a study from Kansas State University.
Olive oil + kale
Even though the buzz around heart-healthy fats like olive oil is good, you may still be trying to cut down on oil in an effort to save calories. But it’s time to start sauteeing your veggies again. ‘Vegetables have many fat-soluble vitamins, like A, D, E, and K, which means they need fat to be absorbed,’ explains culinary nutrition expert and healthy living blogger Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RDN, of Nutritioulicious. In addition to kale, make sure you cook carrots, sweet potatoes, and broccoli with a little fat too.
Almonds + yogurt
Vitamin D is credited with so many health benefits, including boosting your bones, mood, and immune function. Many yogurts supply one-quarter your daily need for D per cup. To make the most of it though, toss some slivered almonds on top before digging in—especially if you’re eating non- or low-fat yogurt. The fat in the nuts helps raise the levels of D found in your blood 32 percent more compared to having no fat at all, reveals research in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Sardines + spinach
The fatty fish is abundant in vitamin D, while spinach offers magnesium. In 2013 research, magnesium was shown to interact with the vitamin to boost levels of D in your body. Long-term, this may even help reduce risk of heart disease and colon cancer.
Turmeric + black pepper
You’ve no doubt heard the buzz around the anti-cancer properties of curcumin, the molecule in turmeric that gives the spice its yellow hue. Problem is, it can be difficult for your body to absorb and truly reap the benefits. Combining turmeric with black pepper—which isn’t hard to do in cooking—is a great way to up your body’s ability to use it by 2,000 percent, research shows.
Avocado + toast
If you’re participating in ‘Toast Tuesdays,’ you might have tried the much-obsessed over avocado toast. And it is delicious, FYI. The foods are a perfect match not just for their taste but because the fat from the avocado will slow the rate at which carbs are broken down, absorbed, and converted into sugar, points out Levinson. It’s simple: just spread avocado on whole grain toast and top with some sea salt and pepper (and even lemon juice or hot sauce) and you’re good to go. Add a fried egg for an extra protein boost.
Tomato sauce + spinach
Might as well pack more veggies into the sauce, right? Spinach contains iron, something you may need more of if you’re not eating meat (which is the most abundant source of the mineral). The catch? Iron is not easily absorbed from plant sources, so to tip the scales in your favor, you need to eat these plants with a source of vitamin C, according to Levinson. In this case, tomatoes provide the kick of vitamin C you need to best absorb your spinach. Try her recipe for tomato sauce with spinach, or opt for these other power duos: spinach salad with strawberries, beans and bell peppers, or tofu and broccoli.
Brown rice + lentils
If you’re vegetarian, you may have heard that you should eat certain foods together to ensure you’re getting a complete protein. It’s actually more important that you get a variety of plant proteins throughout the day rather than in one specific meal, says Levinson. Still, some combos are classics for a reason—together, they form a complete protein. Try a brown rice and lentil bowl, beans wrapped in corn tortillas, or nut butter slathered on whole grain bread.
Salmon + leafy greens
Greens to the rescue once more! Vitamin D and calcium are typically found together in dairy, and for good reason: Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, both of which are critical for bone health, points out Levinson. But if you don’t eat milk or yogurt, what do you do? Buy salmon and eat it atop a bed of cooked greens of your choice (sauteeing them cooks them down, making it easier to eat a bigger serving).
Brown rice + garlic + onion
Here’s a reason to make a stir-fry tonight: Garlic and onion help increase the availability of iron and zinc in whole grains, according to Levinson. You can thank the sulfur-containing compounds within the stinky alliums (garlic and onion) for the mineral boost, say researchers.
Carbonation + water
Think we’re getting one by you? If you have trouble getting yourself to drink plain H20, hear us out about why bubbles and water make an ideal match. One German study found that people who made carbonated water at home (think SodaStream), drank more water than those who didn’t—and bonus!—consumed less fat during the day, too.
Red wine + black pepper
The spice does it again. Black pepper contains a compound called piperine, which may help improve the bioavailability of resveratrol (the disease-busting antioxidant in red wine) to tissues, suggests an animal study published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research. While it doesn’t seem like a natural pairing, simply drink a glass of vino with dinner, and keep the pepper mill handy. Bon appetit!
Green tea + lemon
When you give your cup a squirt of citrus, the vitamin C preserves green tea’s antioxidant catechins, helping them survive the harrowing journey through your digestive tract to where your body can absorb them—so you can reap the benefits from the brew—reveals Purdue University research.
Guacamole + salsa
Pass the chips, please. This is another perfect example of how the antioxidants in certain produce, like tomatoes, need a little fat in order to be absorbed. In fact, a study in the Journal of Nutrition found that eating avocado with salsa improved the absorption of lycopene and beta-carotene in the tomatoes by 4.4 and 2.6 times, respectively. It’s the perfect excuse to go for Mexican tonight.
Pistachios + raisins
When you think about it, trail mix makes lots of sense. Eating dried fruit and nuts together can help improve your metabolic health to help decrease your diabetes risk, suggests a review published in Nutrition Journal. Together, they supply fiber, vitamins, and minerals—and the fat from the nuts helps keep your blood sugar at an even keel. Try making your own custom trail mix instead of paying a premium for the pre-packaged kind.
Clean eating may be the buzziest health term on the Internet. But what does it mean? Unfortunately, that’s not always clear.
At the core of this credo is the advice author Michael Pollan famously gave a decade ago in his best-selling book In Defense of Food: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
And research shows that this kind of eating pattern can indeed improve health and help maintain a healthy weight. In 2014 David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Public Health, published a study that compared some of the most popular diets. Katz says that there’s not enough evidence to determine the best specific diet — and there likely never will be.
But Katz was able to determine which general eating pattern is best for health. That would be a “diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants.” And this pattern turns out to be compatible with any evidence-based diet plan, from paleo to Mediterranean to vegan.
Choosing fresh foods over packaged and processed foods improves your health because processed foods are more likely to have added sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats, as well as fewer quality nutrients. And eating mostly plant-based foods ensures a rich assortment of nutrients while reducing those harmful ones.
So why not fully embrace clean eating?
For one, there are a growing number of unsubstantiated fad diets touting the benefits of eating clean. “Most fad diets are untested,” says Traci Mann, professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota and the author of Secrets from the Eating Lab. “They’re just things people think up and put in books. They should probably go in the fiction section.”
“The term has been co-opted to mean things like cleanses and detoxes and a whole potpourri of dietary restrictions that are unfounded, unsubstantiated, and unlikely to do anyone any good,” Katz says. “As it’s currently used, the term means next to nothing.”
“But I think it could mean something,” adds Katz. It could be used to describe a diet of “minimally processed foods without added chemicals. Food close to nature, from sources that are raised well.” This concept of clean eating would be a helpful one, he says.
How to Make Clean Eating Work for You
Choose more fresh whole foods, especially plant-based. Plan your meals around lots of fresh fruits and vegetables; legumes (like beans and lentils); nuts; seeds; and whole grains. If you eat meat, choose high-quality lean meat, poultry, or fish. “I recommend strategies to eat more healthy food, rather than trying to focus on resisting unhealthy food,” says Mann. “Eat a vegetable before you have any other food on your plate. Once you put a vegetable in head-to-head competition with any other food, it tends to lose that contest.”
You’ll probably eat less of the other stuff if you start by eating more vegetables. Mann also recommends reducing barriers to healthy foods and adding barriers to unhealthy ones. For example, have a snack of carrot sticks peeled and ready to eat, and keep cookies or candy out of sight and out of mind.
Trade up your packaged foods. Try to avoid packaged and processed foods and meats, as much as possible. However, most of us do rely on at least some convenience foods, like cereal or a frozen meal now and then. So try to select versions with as little processing as you can, made with healthier ingredients.
“Start by trading up individual foods,” Katz says. “There’s a massive spectrum of quality in every aisle of the supermarket.” Look for those that use whole grains. Try to avoid items with ingredients that you can’t pronounce or that you haven’t heard of. Look for options with lower sugar, salt, and fat. And if you choose to eat meat, pick foods closer to their natural state, such as a heat-and-eat chicken breast, instead of frozen chicken nuggets. Likewise, bread made by your local baker is likely healthier than industrially packaged bread.
Cook at home. Restaurants aim to please and load their foods with sugar, fat, and salt. But when people cook for themselves, they often use fresh, wholesome ingredients and keep it simple. Research shows that people who cook most of their meals at home consume less fat and sugar and fewer total calories than those who don’t. They also make better choices when they do go out.
Enjoy your food and eat mindfully. Think about the food you eat and prepare for yourself. Consider where it comes from and how it makes you feel. Notice the color, texture, taste, and smell of your food. These mindfulness strategies can help you slow down your meal and eat less, while enjoying healthful food more. Mann’s lab found that drinking coffee mindfully helped subjects enjoy the natural flavors more, which in turn helped them cut way back on sugar.
Skip These Unhelpful Clean Eating Fads
Avoid overly restrictive diets. Some of the most popular “clean eating” diets you’ll find online are extremely exclusive. The 30 Clean diet starts by banning all sweeteners, soy, dairy, grains, gluten, and corn, along with all processed foods. (It does allow for three small squares of dark chocolate and two alcoholic beverages a week — unless you opt for the Super Clean.) The Whole 30 allows you corn but eliminates the rest of those foods along with legumes. In practice, that means no fat-free yogurt, no brown rice, no sugar substitutes, no tofu — nary even a lentil. “The foods that are excluded are some of the most nutritious there are,” Katz says.
Research tells us that strict diets like this are difficult to keep. “They make your body think you’re starving to death,” says Mann. “And that leads to all these changes that make it hard to keep the weight off. Your metabolism changes. Suddenly you have to eat fewer calories to continue losing weight. Your hormones change, so you’re hungrier all the time,” she says. “And then there are the neurological effects where your attention becomes very focused on food.” This is why most people who do restrictive diets gain the weight back, and often more.
Stay clear of cleanses and detox diets. Clean Eating Magazine, 30 Clean, and The Eat Clean Diet’s author Tosca Reno all give tips for juice detoxes or cleanses, though there is no scientific evidence suggesting juice diets have any benefit. “Almost every claim I’ve ever seen about a cleanse or a detox is just confabulated nonsense,” says Katz. “The body is marvelously endowed with detox organs. They will take care of detoxing you better than you could hope to do out of a book by whoever the self-proclaimed guru du jour happens to be.”
Don’t do a diet that makes you feel guilty. Obsessing over the purest, cleanest foods, can make all other foods seem dirty. And that can be unhelpful. “Once you dichotomize your food into good/bad, virtuous/non-virtuous, that is problematic because that leads people to feel guilt or shame when they eat the bad category,” says Mann. That, she says, “can make you feel bad about yourself as a whole.” Clean eating diets tend to push for purity. The Whole 30 diet, for example, makes you start your 30-day challenge over if you cheat once.
We all want to eat better, but complicated fad diets may do more harm than good. Look for ways to make lasting improvements to your lifestyle, rather than temporary fixes. When it comes to clean eating, it might pay to remember Pollan’s words: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
D.L. Katz and S. Meller, “Can We Say What Diet Is Best for Health?”, Annual Review of Public Health, March, 2014.
Julia A. Wolfson and Sara N. Bleich, “Is cooking at home associated with better diet quality or weight-loss intention?,” Public Health Nutrition, June, 2015.
By Kevin McCarthy | March 13, 2017
Big changes like cutting out all carbs or training for a marathon are great—but you don’t have to remake yourself to have a dramatic impact on your health. Try a few of these baby steps to get you started in the right direction.
Add a fruit or veggie to every meal
Not ready to give up a bad habit yet? Start by creating an easy good-for-you habit instead. “Less than one in three individuals gets even two servings of fruits and vegetables per day,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, LDN, CPT, author of 2 Day Diabetes Diet. “By adding one serving to each meal, you can get in at least three servings per day and be ahead of the curve. A half of a banana on your breakfast cereal, a small side salad with your sandwich at lunch, and adding 1/2 cup of cooked veggies into your pasta can pack in more fiber, antioxidants, and nutrients—all which have been found to reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even certain cancers.”
Work on your hips
“If you have a sedentary job, focus on some hip opening exercises to start and end your day,” suggests trainer Jonathan Hertilus, ACE, owner of BFF Bootcamp in Nutley, NJ. “For instance,” says Hertilus, “hip bridges can be done anywhere—even in bed—as soon as you wake up or right before you go to sleep.” Just a few minutes of hip exercises can do wonders to keep your back and core muscles engaged.
Lose a little weight
Setting a goal to lose 40 pounds or more to get out of the “overweight” category can be daunting. So aim for smaller, more attainable goals, which can make a big difference in your overall health. “Small steps can be very powerful,” says Jill Crandall, MD, professor of endocrinology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and an attending physician at Montefiore Health System.” For people who are at increased risk for type 2 diabetes, which includes many adults who are overweight and have a family history of diabetes, modest changes can reduce the risk of developing diabetes by over 50 percent.” Dr. Crandall suggests focusing on losing about 7 percent of your overall weight—or about 15 pounds for a 200-pound person.
Lighten your load
Cleaning out your purse or backpack could go a long way toward preventing neck, back, and shoulder pain. When you are carrying things, balance your load, and avoid backpacks or purses with more than 10 percent of your body weight,” suggests Robert Hayden, DC, PhD, a chiropractor in Griffin, Georgia.
Be careful with condiments
You might want to take a second to consider before you slather your next salad in ranch dressing. “Ketchup, barbecue sauce, mayo, and salad dressings can all be a major source of calories, sodium, fat, and added sugar,” says Palinski-Wade. “Opt for condiments on the side, rather than on your meal and read those labels!”
Skimp on the sugar—and pump up your probiotics
More and more studies show that sugar wreaks havoc on your health, including slowing your metabolism, impairing brain function, and increasing your risk of heart disease and cancer. But there are other health issues you can keep at bay with a little less sugar and a little more healthy bacteria. “Decreasing intake of sugar and processed food as well as taking probiotics can help decrease yeast infections,” says Jessica Shepherd, MD, MBA, OB/GYN, director of minimally invasive gynecology at University of Illinois at Chicago.
Straighten up your sleep habits
A bad sleep posture could make for more aches and pains when you’re awake. “Most of us don’t really think much about posture while we are asleep—but really, posture while you are asleep is at least as important as when you are awake because the muscles that protect your joints are quite loose while you are asleep,” says Dr. Hayden. “I recommend sleeping in a side posture whenever possible. Make sure your pillow is firm and just high enough to keep your head level with the mattress so that your head is neither pushed up nor down. Use a body pillow to hug, throwing your upper arm and upper knee over the pillow so that the pillow supports the weight of the extremities while you are asleep. This prevents you from inducing torque into the lumbar spine and offloads the weight of the upper extremity from the structures at the base of the neck. This simple approach to rest keeps your body straight and as stress free as possible while you catch those zzzs.”
Drink half your weight in water
We should all be drinking more water, but the old saw about eight glasses of eight ounces of water doesn’t work for everybody. The better formula? “Take your weight in pounds and divide by two, and you will get the number of ounces of water you should drink every day,” says Mitzi Dulan, RD, founder of simplyFUEL. “Start your day with a big glass of ice water. Ice cold water can boost your metabolism slightly because it takes energy for your body to get it to room temperature—drink six glasses of 16 ounces of cold water and burn an extra 100 calories per day.”
Stop the midnight snacking
“Avoid eating after 8 p.m.,” says Dulan. “Often times, late-night eating is really boredom eating. This helps your body focus on burning the fat during the night instead of trying to work to digest the food you just ate before nodding off.”
Shut off your electronics an hour before bedtime
Those last hours before bed may seem like the perfect time to catch up on some work or binge watch a little of your favorite show, but experts say that the light emanating from your screens could be disrupting your sleep. That wavelength of light disrupts melatonin production, and tricks your body into thinking it’s daylight, according to Mark Buchfuhrer, MD, medical director of the Comprehensive Sleep Center at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles. The fix? Skip the screens and tuck into a good book, do relaxed stretching, or find another way to unwind in the last hour before your bedtime.
Trade refined carbs for whole grains
“Most people eat plenty of grains, but most Americans consume only one serving of whole grains per day,” says Palinski-Wade. “By swapping out a few refined grains for whole grains, you may reduce your waist circumference and reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. If you use white bread for a sandwich, switch to rye. If you like rice, opt for brown rice over white rice. A simple switch can add up significantly.”
Take breaks when you’re traveling
Whether you travel by car or plane, taking frequent breaks to walk and stretch is essential. When flying by air, it can reduce your risk of developing a dangerous blood clot in your leg, called a deep vein thrombosis. “I coach our patients who are driving long-distance to get out of the vehicle periodically and walk around it a few laps,” Dr. Hayden says. “Find a bumper that is the right height to put one foot on it. Step back about two feet, square the pelvis, and lean toward the foot that is on the bumper. This has the effect of a hurdler’s stretch, and it will help stretch those gluteals on which you have been sitting as well as the quadriceps and many of the extensor muscles in the back. Always stretch both sides—if you leave one side tight, you may find yourself walking in circles!”
Cut down on the cocktails
Those studies that show red wine’s positive health benefits may encourage us to raise a few more glasses, but there are really good reasons to limit your alcohol intake, including increased risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels, and obesity. Cutting back on the booze can decrease the risk of many different kinds of cancer, including breast cancer, according to Dr. Shepherd. For women, one drink a day seems to be the healthy max, while men can have two.
“Everyone asks me to recommend one exercise that everyone can do to improve their overall health,” says Pat McGuinness, personal trainer at the MAX Challenge in Montclair, NJ, and regional director of programming for New York Sports Clubs. “My answer is always squats! Everyone can do them—modifications are easy—and leg muscles make up more than 60 percent of our total body composition, which means you get more bang for your buck!”
Walk for five minutes every hour at work
Studies have shown that a sedentary lifestyle can wreak havoc on your health. If you can’t get a standing desk to help you limit your time on your seat, make sure you take a five-minute walk break every hour. That can help you minimize the impact of sitting on your health, and ensure you get even more than the doctor-recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week. That can help you reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, according to Dr. Crandall.
Swap soda for fruit-spiked water
Whether it’s diet or sugar-filled, study after study shows that soda isn’t the best beverage—unless you want to gain weight, increase your risk of developing diabetes, cancer, or heart disease, and reduce your bone density. But you don’t have to sacrifice flavor if you give up your soda. “Infuse water with fruit for a tasty alternative that’s sure to impress and refresh,” says McGuinness.
Grade school kids may be more likely to develop asthma if they consumed lots of drinks sweetened with sugar and high fructose corn syrup or if their mothers drank these beverages often during pregnancy, a recent study suggests.
To assess the connection between childhood asthma, sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages, researchers examined data about eating habits from about 1,000 mother-child pairs as well as information on kids’ health, including whether they had an asthma diagnosis by ages 7 to 9.
After accounting for maternal obesity and other factors that can also influence kids’ odds of developing asthma, researchers found that women who consumed the most soda and sugary beverages during pregnancy were 70 percent more likely to have a child diagnosed with asthma by mid-childhood than mothers who never or rarely had sodas during pregnancy.
Women who had the most total fructose during pregnancy were 58 percent more likely to have kids with asthma than women who had little to no fructose.
“Previous studies have linked intake of sugary beverages with obesity, and obesity with asthma,” said study co-author Sheryl Rifas-Shiman, a researcher at Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute in Boston.
“In addition to influencing asthma through increasing the risk of obesity, we found that sugary beverages and high fructose may influence the risk of asthma not entirely through obesity,” Rifas-Shiman said by email. “This finding suggests that there are additional mechanisms by which sugary beverages and fructose influence asthma risk beyond their effects on obesity.”
What kids ate and drank also mattered. Even after accounting for prenatal exposure to sodas, kids who had the most total fructose in their diets earlier in childhood were 79 percent more likely to develop asthma than children who rarely or never had fructose.
Once researchers also factored in whether children were overweight or obese, kids with the highest fructose consumption were still 77 percent more likely to have asthma.
Mothers who consumed more sugary beverages tended to be heavier and have less income and education than women who generally avoided sodas and sweet drinks. But the connection between sodas, sugary drinks and childhood asthma persisted even after accounting for these factors.
“We don’t know for certain the exact pathways by which sugary beverages and fructose lead to asthma,” Rifas-Shiman said. “We believe at least in part they act by increasing inflammation, which may influence the child’s lung development.”
The study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how sodas or sugary drinks might cause asthma.
Another limitation is that researchers relied on women to accurately recall and report on soda consumption for themselves and their young children, which may not always be accurate, researchers note in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.
Even so, the findings add to the evidence that women should avoid sodas and sugary foods and drinks during pregnancy and also limit these things for their young kids, said Dr. Leda Chatzi, a researcher at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles who wasn’t involved in the study.
“Pregnant women should stay away from sugar sweetened drinks and foods with added sugars,” Chatzi said by email.
“Healthy eating during pregnancy is critical to their baby’s growth and development of chronic diseases such as asthma later in life,” Chatzi added. “A healthy dietary pattern during pregnancy contains a variety of food groups, including fruits and vegetables, breads and grains, protein sources and dairy products.”