Archive for the ‘News’ Category


Sure, your diet keeps your body slim and healthy, but its impact doesn’t stop there.

The food you eat — from wrinkle-fighting antioxidants in fruits and vegetables to hydrating healthy fats in fish — may matter to your skin almost as much as it does to your waistline.

Is your way of noshing helping or hurting your complexion? We asked top docs for their take on the face-friendliness of six popular diets.

Read on to see if yours passes the beauty test, and find out how you can alter what you eat for A-plus skin.

Health.com: 8 steps to healthy skin at every age


(such as The Mediterranean Diet and The Mediterranean Prescription)

The lowdown: Fish, leafy greens, olive oil, and fruit are the stars of this heart-healthy, waist-whittling diet. But the benefits don’t end there — eating Mediterranean may also protect against melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, a recent Italian study suggests.

On the cosmetic front, omega-3 fatty acids in fish help keep skin-cell membranes strong and elastic. And antioxidants in leafy greens and olive oil may protect against ultraviolet light and other environmental assaults that can break down collagen and elastin, the structural supports that keep skin plump and smooth. Result: less sagging and fewer wrinkles later.

Olive oil, tomatoes, and red wine also have antioxidants that help block the chemical reactions that lead to sun damage, explains Leslie Baumann, M.D., chief executive officer of the Baumann Cosmetic and Research Institute in Miami Beach, Florida.

Skin Rx: Red wine contains resveratrol, an antioxidant that’s great for skin — but sip in moderation. Overdoing it can dehydrate you, leaving skin dry. Too much alcohol can also generate free radicals, which can break down collagen, leading to wrinkles, Baumann says.

Health.com: 7 ways you’re aging your skin


(such as “The New Becoming Vegetarian” and “Skinny Bitch”)

The lowdown: Whether you skip meat and other animal products for your health, ethical reasons, or both, you probably eat more fresh produce and whole grains as a result — good news for your skin. The antioxidants in these eats neutralize the free radicals that contribute to wrinkles, brown spots, and other signs of aging.

Plant-based protein sources may also have super skin benefits. For example, beans contain zit-battling zinc and decrease inflammation, a culprit behind redness, pimples, and premature wrinkles, says Nicholas Perricone, M.D., author of “Forever Young: The Science of Nutrigenomics for Glowing, Wrinkle-Free Skin and Radiant Health at Every Age.” On the other hand, some studies suggest that dairy contributes to acne, Dr. Baumann says; consider other protein sources if breakouts are a problem.

Skin Rx: Veggie diets tend to be low in fat, so incorporate ground flaxseeds and olive and safflower oils to help your skin retain water, making it more supple, Baumann says.

Health.com: 12 mouthwatering meatless meals

High-protein, low-carb

(such as South Beach Diet and Atkins)

The lowdown: First, the good news: Cutting back on white bread, pasta, and refined sugar in order to fight flab can also lower the secretion of the stress hormone cortisol and minimize breakouts, says Manhattan dermatologist Francesca Fusco, M.D. Moderate plans that swap in whole grains, fresh produce, and lean meats also up antioxidants, blemish-busting zinc, and collagen-building protein.

But beware of more meat-heavy plans: Getting some cholesterol from red meat will shore up skin cells’ protective lipid layer, but “eating too much animal fat can result in an increased production of free radicals, which are thought to interfere with normal cellular processing,” says New York City–based aesthetic dermatologist Lisa Airan, M.D. “This may cause premature cell death,” which can lead to sagging skin.

Skin Rx: Drink lots of water to keep skin hydrated. Choose fish and other lean proteins — not just saturated fat-laden red meat. Eat antioxidant-rich leafy greens daily.

Health.com: 15 big benefits of water


(such as “Eat More, Weigh Less”)

The lowdown: Cutting down on saturated fat — found in red meat and whole milk — is great for your heart and waistline. A diet low in animal fat also stems the production of free radicals that can prematurely age skin, Airan says.

Still, your skin needs some fat, especially the good kind found in nuts and olive oil. Fat helps your body absorb complexion-friendly antioxidants and fat-soluble vitamins, and strengthens cell membranes — and ultimately your epidermis — for a dewier, more supple face.

Skin Rx: Eat a little fat. “Get at least 20 percent of your calories from fat, mainly the unsaturated kind,” says New York City dermatologist Cheryl Karcher, M.D. Sauté veggies in olive oil, toss nuts into salads, and keep omega-3-rich salmon, flaxseeds, and the occasional fortified egg in your diet. Linoleic acid, found in vegetable oils, is “crucial for bolstering the skin barrier, which keeps moisture in and irritants out of your skin,” Dr. Baumann says.

Health.com: The 50 fattiest foods in the states


(such as “Raw Food Life Force Energy”)

The lowdown: Raw-foodists — who nosh mainly on produce, nuts, and sprouted beans and grains — believe that not cooking food preserves its natural enzymes, aiding digestion, energy, and weight loss. Though these claims aren’t universally accepted by doctors, there’s no denying that these foods make for a happy complexion.

What’s more, the healthy oils in nuts, avocados, and olive oil keep skin cell membranes strong and pliant. The downside: “When you eat very little meat, it’s challenging to get enough of the building blocks for collagen,” Airan says.

Skin Rx: Sneak in sprouted beans, sushi, soy, and other raw proteins for collagen, and incorporate healthy fat sources like almonds, flaxseeds, and olive oil to help build firm skin cells.

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A new study conducted by Canadian scientists has found that a special vegetarian diet including soy, nuts, viscous & plant sterol, lowered bad cholesterol significantly, without the assistance of drugs, over a six month period. In fact, study participants on this diet showed a significantly greater lowering of bad cholesterol than those on an ordinary vegetarian diet of low-fat and whole grains, over the same period.

The new study, conducted by David J. A. Jenkins, M.D., of St. Michael’s Hospital and the University of Toronto, and colleagues, is published in the August 24/31, 2011 issue of JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association.

The new study “represents the first randomized trial to our knowledge to assess the ability of an intervention that counsels for consumption of these cholesterol-lowering foods to reduce LDL-C at 6-month follow-up in real-world conditions,” the researchers wrote.


In the study, a group of 345 Canadian who volunteered for the study were selected to participate on the basis of having initially high levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (“LDL-C” or bad Cholesterol), ranging from 135 to 205 mg/dL for the men in the study, and from 116 to 178 mg/dL for the postmenopausal women in the study. None of the participants had a personal or family history of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, or diabetes, and none of the participants were currently taking any cholesterol-lowering medications.

The participants were randomly divided into three groups — two “intervention groups” who went on the special vegetarian diet, high in soy protein, nuts, viscous, and plant sterols, and a control group who went on a vegetarian low-saturated fat diet with high fiber and whole grains, including whole grain cereals, fruit and vegetables, but not containing any of the four mentioned cholesterol-lowering foods (soy, nuts, viscous, and plant sterols). Over the six months of the study, one of the intervention groups (routine) received counseling in two one-hour visits, and the other intervention group (intensive) received seven such counseling visits.

According the the study report, the special foods selected for the intervention diet (soy, nuts, viscous and plant sterols) have previously been recognized by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), based on prior studies, as being associated with lowering of cholesterol and improved heart health. “Many of these foods [also] have other attributes, including lowering the glyceimic index, which may aid in reducing disease risk for cardiovascular heart disease, diabetes, and obesity,” the researchers stated. However, according to the authors, the long-term effect of diets rich in these foods compared to conventional dietary advice had not previously been measured.

A sample of the special diet assigned to the intervention groups in the study, compared to the control group diet, is shown in a chart called “Representative Diets Followed in Control and Dietary Portfolio Treatment Groups,” that is linked with the published study report in JAMA.

Here is a sample of the foods included in the special cholesterol-lowering diet, provided by the study authors:


Hot oat bran cereal, soy beverage, strawberries, sugar and psyllium, oat bran bread, enriched margarine (enriched with plant sterols), and double-fruit jam

Snack ( all Snacks could be eaten with meals, if desired)

Almonds, soy beverage, fresh fruit


Spicy black bean soup, Sandwich (soy deli slices, oat bran bread, enriched margarine, lettuce, tomato, cucumber)


Almonds, psyllium, fresh fruit


Tofu bake with ratatouille (firm tofu, eggplant, onions, sweet peppers), pearled barley, vegetables (e.g. broccoli, cauliflower)


Fresh fruit, psyllium, soy beverage

The researchers measured the LDL-C levels of the study participants at the beginning of the study, at each of their counseling visits, and at six months, to determine the effect of the assigned diets on the participants’ LDL-C cholesterol levels over six months.

The overall attrition rate of the participants was not significantly different between the three study groups (18 percent for intensive dietary group, 23 percent for routine dietary group, and 26 percent for control group).


The researchers found that at the end of six months on the assigned diets, the LDL-C cholesterol levels of those on the special cholesterol-lowing diet who received 7 counseling sessions (intensive group) were reduced by an average of 13.8 percent, the LDL-C cholesterol levels of those on the special diet who received two counseling sessions (routine group) were reduced by an average of 13.1 percent, and the LDL-C cholesterol levels of those in the control group were reduced by 3.0 percent.

“Percentage LDL-C reductions for each dietary portfolio were significantly more than the control diet,” the authors wrote. “The 2 dietary portfolio interventions did not differ significantly. Among participants randomized to one of the dietary portfolio interventions, percentage reduction in LDL-C on the dietary portfolio was associated with dietary adherence,” the researchers stated.

The special diet achieved these significant reductions in LDL-C (bad cholesterol), “without lowering HDL-C [good cholesterol],” according to the study authors.

The researchers also found that the intensive cholesterol-lowering diet let to a significant reduction in diastolic blood pressure of 2.1 mm Hg, compared with the control diet. In addition, the Cholesterol-lowering diet reduced the calculated 10-year cardiovascular heart disease risk by 11.3% in the intensive intervention dietary group, and by 10.8% in the routine intervention group, according to the study authors. These reductions were significantly greater than the .5% reduction in cardiovascular heart disease risk in the control group, the researchers found.

“In conclusion,” the authors wrote, “this study indicated the potential value of using recognized cholesterol-lowering foods in combination. We believe this approach has clinical application. A meaningful 13 percent LDL-C reduction can be obtained after only 2 clinic visits of approximately 60-and 40-minute sessions.”

The authors observed that upon joining the study the study participants, “were already consuming an acceptable background diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol.” Therefore, they further concluded “this approach may underestimate the effectiveness of the diet when applied to those individuals who are not already following therapeutic diets.”

Implications – Is Changing Your Diet Enough?

“A lot of people rely on the medication, but diet is really powerful actually,” Dr. Jenkins, the study’s lead author, who is a professor of nutrition and metabolism at University of Toronto, told Reuters Health. He suggested that doctors should encourage their patients with high cholesterol to try diet changes, if they’re interested, according to Reuters. “A couple of visits to a nutritionist might be enough for motivated patients to make the switch to a plant-based, higher-fiber diet,” he added.

“The diet only is enough for the majority of the people that have a not-so-good lifestyle,” Dr. Joan Sabate, head of nutrition at Loma Linda University in California (who was not involved in the study), told Reuters Health. “By changing the diet and their lifestyle they can establish good control of their cholesterol,” she said.

“The main takeaway here is that people can lower their cholesterol with diet if they put their minds to it,” Dr. Jenkins, lead author of the study, told ABC News. “These can be small changes. We’re not asking people to live behind bars,” he said.

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A New Study on Weight Loss


It’s no secret that Americans are fatter today than ever before, and not just those unlucky people who are genetically inclined to gain weight or have been overweight all their lives. Many who were lean as young adults have put on lots of unhealthy pounds as they pass into middle age and beyond.

It’s also no secret that the long-recommended advice to eat less and exercise more has done little to curb the inexorable rise in weight. No one likes to feel deprived or leave the table hungry, and the notion that one generally must eat less to control body weight really doesn’t cut it for the typical American.

So the newest findings on what specific foods people should eat less often — and more importantly, more often — to keep from gaining pounds as they age should be of great interest to tens of millions of Americans.

The new research, by five nutrition and public health experts at Harvard University, is by far the most detailed long-term analysis of the factors that influence weight gain, involving 120,877 well-educated men and women who were healthy and not obese at the start of the study. In addition to diet, it has important things to say about exercise, sleep, television watching, smoking and alcohol intake.

The study participants — nurses, doctors, dentists and veterinarians in the Nurses’ Health Study, Nurses’ Health Study II and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study — were followed for 12 to 20 years. Every two years, they completed very detailed questionnaires about their eating and other habits and current weight. The fascinating results were published in June in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The analysis examined how an array of factors influenced weight gain or loss during each four-year period of the study. The average participant gained 3.35 pounds every four years, for a total weight gain of 16.8 pounds in 20 years.

“This study shows that conventional wisdom — to eat everything in moderation, eat fewer calories and avoid fatty foods — isn’t the best approach,” Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health and lead author of the study, said in an interview. “What you eat makes quite a difference. Just counting calories won’t matter much unless you look at the kinds of calories you’re eating.”

Dr. Frank B. Hu, a nutrition expert at the Harvard School of Public Health and a co-author of the new analysis, said: “In the past, too much emphasis has been put on single factors in the diet. But looking for a magic bullet hasn’t solved the problem of obesity.”

Also untrue, Dr. Mozaffarian said, is the food industry’s claim that there’s no such thing as a bad food.

“There are good foods and bad foods, and the advice should be to eat the good foods more and the bad foods less,” he said. “The notion that it’s O.K. to eat everything in moderation is just an excuse to eat whatever you want.”

The study showed that physical activity had the expected benefits for weight control. Those who exercised less over the course of the study tended to gain weight, while those who increased their activity didn’t. Those with the greatest increase in physical activity gained 1.76 fewer pounds than the rest of the participants within each four-year period.

But the researchers found that the kinds of foods people ate had a larger effect over all than changes in physical activity.

“Both physical activity and diet are important to weight control, but if you are fairly active and ignore diet, you can still gain weight,” said Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health and a co-author of the study.

As Dr. Mozaffarian observed, “Physical activity in the United States is poor, but diet is even worse.”

Little Things Mean a Lot

People don’t become overweight overnight.

Rather, the pounds creep up slowly, often unnoticed, until one day nothing in the closet fits the way it used to.

Even more important than its effect on looks and wardrobe, this gradual weight gain harms health. At least six prior studies have found that rising weight increases the risk in women of heart disease, diabetes, stroke and breast cancer, and the risk in men of heart disease, diabetes and colon cancer.

The beauty of the new study is its ability to show, based on real-life experience, how small changes in eating, exercise and other habits can result in large changes in body weight over the years.

On average, study participants gained a pound a year, which added up to 20 pounds in 20 years. Some gained much more, about four pounds a year, while a few managed to stay the same or even lose weight.

Participants who were overweight at the study’s start tended to gain the most weight, which seriously raised their risk of obesity-related diseases, Dr. Hu said. “People who are already overweight have to be particularly careful about what they eat,” he said.

The foods that contributed to the greatest weight gain were not surprising. French fries led the list: Increased consumption of this food alone was linked to an average weight gain of 3.4 pounds in each four-year period. Other important contributors were potato chips (1.7 pounds), sugar-sweetened drinks (1 pound), red meats and processed meats (0.95 and 0.93 pound, respectively), other forms of potatoes (0.57 pound), sweets and desserts (0.41 pound), refined grains (0.39 pound), other fried foods (0.32 pound), 100-percent fruit juice (0.31 pound) and butter (0.3 pound).

Also not too surprising were most of the foods that resulted in weight loss or no gain when consumed in greater amounts during the study: fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Compared with those who gained the most weight, participants in the Nurses’ Health Study who lost weight consumed 3.1 more servings of vegetables each day.

But contrary to what many people believe, an increased intake of dairy products, whether low-fat (milk) or full-fat (milk and cheese), had a neutral effect on weight.

And despite conventional advice to eat less fat, weight loss was greatest among people who ate more yogurt and nuts, including peanut butter, over each four-year period.

Nuts are high in vegetable fat, and previous small studies have shown that eating peanut butter can help people lose weight and keep it off, probably because it slows the return of hunger.

That yogurt, among all foods, was most strongly linked to weight loss was the study’s most surprising dietary finding, the researchers said. Participants who ate more yogurt lost an average of 0.82 pound every four years.

Yogurt contains healthful bacteria that in animal studies increase production of intestinal hormones that enhance satiety and decrease hunger, Dr. Hu said. The bacteria may also raise the body’s metabolic rate, making weight control easier.

But, consistent with the new study’s findings, metabolism takes a hit from refined carbohydrates — sugars and starches stripped of their fiber, like white flour. When Dr. David Ludwig of Children’s Hospital Boston compared the effects of refined carbohydrates with the effects of whole grains in both animals and people, he found that metabolism, which determines how many calories are used at rest, slowed with the consumption of refined grains but stayed the same after consumption of whole grains.

Other Influences

As has been suggested by previous smaller studies, how long people slept each night influenced their weight changes. In general, people who slept less than six hours or more than eight hours a night tended to gain the most. Among possible explanations are effects of short nights on satiety hormones, as well as an opportunity to eat more while awake, Dr. Hu said.

He was not surprised by the finding that the more television people watched, the more weight they gained, most likely because they are influenced by a barrage of food ads and snack in front of the TV.

Alcohol intake had an interesting relationship to weight changes. No significant effect was found among those who increased their intake to one glass of wine a day, but increases in other forms of alcohol were likely to bring added pounds.

As expected, changes in smoking habits also influenced weight changes. Compared with people who never smoked, those who had quit smoking within the previous four years gained an average of 5.17 pounds. Subsequent weight gain was minimal — 0.14 pound for each four-year period.

Those who continued smoking lost 0.7 pound in each four-year period, which the researchers surmised may have resulted from undiagnosed underlying disease, especially since those who took up smoking experienced no change in weight.

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A FRUIT-and-vegetable-based cleansing product Marie Lebair O’Brient uses about every three months makes her feel like she’s getting her eating habits back on track.

After following the vegan, gluten-free Kaeng Raeng cleanse program for three days, her taste for salty foods diminishes. She feels more “regular” and is motivated to eat more healthfully. The regimen replaces all meals with a shake and all snacks with raw fruits and vegetables. It’s worth the $60 investment each time, she says, to detox and lose a little bit of weight.

“It’s a regimen of a few days where I am eating things that are really good for me,” the Moraga resident says. “I am amazed at how good I feel afterward.”

In the past couple of years, cleanse programs — everything from the do-it-yourself lemon juice and maple syrup Master Cleanse to designer cleanses such as Kaeng Raeng developed by a Stanford grad — have become the rage for people who want to lose weight, eliminate toxins from their bodies and gain some oft-needed eating discipline. Hollywood elites such as Beyoncé Knowles and Ryan Seacrest say they’ve lost weight using them, and Gwyneth Paltrow says a 21-day regimen she regularly follows helps give her “mental clarity.”

Depending on the program — and there are hundreds if not thousands on the market — anecdotal reviews are generally shining. But health professionals warn that people are wasting their money on cleanses and, at worst, they are risking their health.

Unlike some cleanses that promise dramatic weight loss in mere days with the help of starvation fasts or added stimulants, there’s nothing sneaky or nefarious about Lindsay Reinsmith’s Kaeng Raeng cleanse or the CAN CAN Cleanse developed by San Francisco’s Teresa Piro.

Reinsmith’s Kaeng Raeng follows the principles of a raw vegan diet. A cleanser uses her powders — which contain more than a full serving of fruit and fiber, lean protein, probiotic cultures, amino acids and vitamins — in shakes, and supplements those shakes with raw fruits and vegetables for three to six days. And that’s it. No coffee, no alcohol, no cupcakes or french fries. A healthy dose of water is also prescribed.

“What Kaeng Raeng does is help people get on the right track for long-term health,” Reinsmith says. “It gives people the chance to experience plant-based living. When you’re going on a detox, when you’re abstaining from meat, you get a glimpse of how your body feels in that lifestyle.”

Reinsmith says most people turn to Kaeng Raeng when they’ve “jumped off the wagon,” meaning they’ve found themselves consuming too much fast food, too much salt or sugar and not enough fruits and vegetables.

Piro says her $175 CAN CAN Cleanse — a three-day liquid cleanse program that includes organic fresh fruit and vegetable juices, soups and teas — is a tool to reset the mind and body.

Prompting change

“People tend to make some realistic and healthy changes to improve their diets after the cleanse,” she says.

And although Piro says the cleanse is not a weight-loss solution, “this is a great way to jump-start (a weight loss program).”

People report their cleanses have made them feel lighter. Users notice changes in their hair and skin. Sugar and salt cravings subside, and energy levels increase.

Providers of cleansing products, including Kaeng Raeng and CAN CAN Cleanse, say the process eliminates toxins from the body. And some cleansing proponents can be pretty convincing.

“We’re starting to understand the impact that toxins are having on our bodies and their contribution to almost every type of illness that we’re seeing, especially obesity and diabetes and cancers and neurological diseases,” says Cory Reddish, a Mill Valley-based licensed naturopathic physician who offers a two-week personalized cleanse for $395. “When I say toxins, we’re talking not only about chemicals, pesticides and PCBs but also things we are eating.”

Toxins abound

Add the chemicals found in the air and water with chemicals used in home cleaning products, for example, and additives and preservatives in our food, Reddish says, and you’ll find your body is full of toxins. Cleanses, she says, help remove some of those toxins. The people who participate in her Essential Cleanse, which includes classes, herbal supplements and a detox diet, lose weight and feel much better, she says.

“People start thinking more clearly, their energy is better, their mood is better after a cleanse,” she says. “It’s a result of decreasing the total toxic load in the body.”

But is it necessary?

Thomas Hargrave, a doctor with Alta Bates Summit Medical Center who specializes in the gastrointestinal tract, is clear about claims of toxin elimination by cleanse proponents.

“It’s ridiculous voodoo. All the people who are pushing this stuff have no medical training, and they are basing their claims in these phony ads where they show toxic stuff building up in colons,” he says. “There are no toxins in colons. There is no health benefit and no cleansing benefit.”

Although she says that eating a diet with lots of fruits and vegetables is great for you, Keri Gans, registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, agrees that cleanses cannot deliver on all the promises their proprietors make.

“Anything will feel better after a couple days of not eating pure junk,” she says. “And I claim that people who feel better do so because of what they’re not eating, and they are not eating food very high in fats and very high in sugar.”

Toxins, she says, are naturally eliminated by bodily functions.

“Our bodies are normally cleansing every day. That’s why we have livers. I encourage people who feel like they need to clean out their system to eat fiber. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and whole grains every day,” says Gans, author of “The Small Change Diet” (Gallery, $15).

As for permanent weight loss, Gans has doubts.

Do it yourself

“Quick weight loss usually means you haven’t changed any of your behaviors,” she says. “You will gain all that weight back and then some because you haven’t learned anything from your actions.”

Save your money and make your own fresh fruit juices and smoothies says Joan Frank, director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics at San Francisco State University.

She warns that cleanses should not be used by children or diabetics, and even healthy people should contact their doctors before they use them.

Frank adds it’s best to avoid toxins rather than relying on a cleanse to flush them out. Buy meat with no antibiotics or hormones added. Use the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program (www.montereybayaquarium.org) to find out which types of seafood have high levels of mercury and other toxins. Eat organic fruits and veggies or visit the Environmental Working Group (www.foodnews.org) to find out which produce has the most and least amount of pesticides used in production.

“The other thing to avoid is processed foods,” Frank says. “There are so many benefits to just eating whole foods, fruits and vegetables, lean meats and poultry. It’s nothing dramatic, but it really works.”

  • To learn more about the Kaeng Raeng Cleanse, call 650-646-5474 or visit www.kaengraeng.com.
  • To learn more about the CAN CAN Cleanse, call 415-439-0035 or visit www.cancancleanse.com
  • Homeopathic doctor Cory Reddish can be reached at 415-383-3716. Her website is www.drcory.com
  • American Dietetic Association spokesman and nutrition expert Keri Gans’ book, “The Small Change Diet,” retails at $15 and can be found at most major bookstores or online.
    Visit the American Dietetic Association at www.eatright.org for information on nutrition and healthy weight loss. The website can also help you find a local nutritionist.

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If you can’t convince them, confuse them.
–Harry Truman

The current media debate about the benefits (or lack of harm) of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in our diet misses the obvious. The average American increased their consumption of HFCS (mostly from sugar sweetened drinks and processed food) from zero to more than 60 pounds per person per year. During that time period, obesity rates have more than tripled and diabetes incidence has increased more than seven-fold. Not perhaps the only cause, but a fact that cannot be ignored.

Doubt and confusion are the currency of deception, and they sow the seeds of complacency. These are used skillfully through massive print and television advertising campaigns by the Corn Refiners Association’s attempt to dispel the “myth” that HFCS is harmful and assert through the opinion of “medical and nutrition experts” that it is no different than cane sugar. It is a “natural” product that is a healthy part of our diet when used in moderation.

Except for one problem. When used in moderation, it is a major cause of heart disease, obesity, cancer, dementia, liver failure, tooth decay and more.

The Lengths the Corn Industry Will Go To

The goal of the corn industry is to call into question any claim of harm from consuming high fructose corn syrup, and to confuse and deflect by calling their product natural “corn sugar.” That’s like calling tobacco in cigarettes natural herbal medicine. Watch the slick ad where a caring father walks hand in hand with his four-year-old daughter through a big question mark carved in an idyllic cornfield.

In the ad, the father tells us:

Like any parent, I have questions about the food my daughter eats — like high fructose corn syrup. So I started looking for answers from medical and nutrition experts, and what I discovered whether it’s corn sugar or cane sugar, your body can’t tell the difference. Sugar is sugar. Knowing that makes me feel better about what she eats and that’s one less thing to worry about.

Physicians are also targeted directly. I received a 12-page color glossy monograph from the Corn Refiners Association reviewing the “science” that HFCS was safe and no different than cane sugar. I assume the other 700,000 physicians in America received the same information, at who knows what cost.

In addition to this, I received a special “personal” letter from the Corn Refiner’s Association outlining every mention of the problems with HCFS in our diet — whether in print, blogs, books, radio or television. They warned me of the errors of my ways and put me on “notice.” For what I am not sure. To think they are tracking this (and me) that closely gives me an Orwellian chill.

New websites like www.sweetsurprise.com and www.cornsugar.com help “set us straight” about HFCS with quotes from professors of nutrition and medicine and thought leaders from Harvard and other stellar institutions.

Why is the corn industry spending millions on misinformation campaigns to convince consumers and health care professionals of the safety of their product? Could it be that the food industry comprises 17 percent of our economy?

But are these twisted sweet lies or a sweet surprise, as the Corn Refiners Association websites claim?

What the Science Says about HFCS

Let’s examine the science and insert some common sense into the conversation. These facts may indeed come as a sweet surprise. The ads suggest getting your nutrition advice from your doctor. Having studied this for more than a decade, and having read, interviewed or personally talked with most of the medical and nutrition experts used to bolster the claim that “corn sugar” and cane sugar are essentially the same, quite a different picture emerges and the role of HCFS in promoting obesity, disease and death across the globe becomes clear.

Last week over lunch with Dr. Bruce Ames, one of the foremost nutritional scientists in the world and Dr. Jeffrey Bland, a nutritional biochemist, a student of Linus Pauling and I reviewed the existing science, and Dr. Ames shared shocking new evidence from his research center on how HFCS can trigger body-wide inflammation and obesity.

Here are 5 reasons you should stay way from any product containing high fructose corn syrup.

1. Sugar in any form causes obesity and disease when consumed in pharmacologic doses.

Cane sugar and high fructose corn syrup are indeed both harmful when consumed in pharmacologic doses of 140 pounds per person per year. When one 20-ounce HFCS sweetened soda, sports drink or tea has 17 teaspoons of sugar (and the average teenager often consumes two drinks a day), we are conducting a largely uncontrolled experiment on the human species. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors consumed the equivalent of 20 teaspoons per year, not per day. In this sense, I would agree with the corn industry that sugar is sugar. Quantity matters. But there are some important differences.

2. HFCS and cane sugar are NOT biochemically identical or processed the same way by the body.

High fructose corn syrup is an industrial food product and far from “natural” or a naturally occurring substance. It is extracted from corn stalks through a process so secret that Archer Daniels Midland and Carghill would reportedly not allow the investigative journalist Michael Pollan to observe it for his book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” The sugars are extracted through a chemical enzymatic process resulting in a chemically and biologically novel compound called HFCS.

Some basic biochemistry will help you understand this. Regular cane sugar (sucrose) is made of two-sugar molecules bound tightly together — glucose and fructose in equal amounts. The enzymes in your digestive tract must break down the sucrose into glucose and fructose, which are then absorbed into the body.

HFCS also consists of glucose and fructose, not in a 50-50 ratio, but a 55-45 fructose to glucose ratio in an unbound form. Fructose is sweeter than glucose. And HFCS is cheaper than sugar because of the government farm bill corn subsidies. Products with HFCS are sweeter and cheaper than products made with cane sugar. This allowed for the average soda size to balloon from eight ounces to 20 ounces with little financial costs to manufacturers, but great human costs of increased obesity, diabetes and chronic disease.

Now back to biochemistry. Since there is there is no chemical bond between them, no digestion is required, so they are more rapidly absorbed into your blood stream. Fructose goes right to the liver and triggers lipogenesis (the production of fats like triglycerides and cholesterol) This is why it is the major cause of liver damage in this country and causes a condition called “fatty liver,” which affects 70 million people. The rapidly absorbed glucose triggers big spikes in insulin — our body’s major fat storage hormone. Both of these features of HFCS lead to increased metabolic disturbances that drive increases in appetite, weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, dementia and more.

But there was one more thing I learned during lunch with Dr. Bruce Ames. Research done by his group at the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute found that free fructose from HFCS requires more energy to be absorbed by the gut and soaks up two phosphorous molecules from ATP (our body’s energy source). This depletes the energy fuel source or ATP in our gut required to maintain the integrity of our intestinal lining. Little “tight junctions” cement each intestinal cell together preventing food and bacteria from “leaking” across the intestinal membrane and triggering an immune reaction and body wide inflammation.

High doses of free fructose have been proven to literally punch holes in the intestinal lining, allowing nasty byproducts of toxic gut bacteria and partially digested food proteins to enter your blood stream and trigger the inflammation that we know is at the root of obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, dementia and accelerated aging. Naturally occurring fructose in fruit is part of a complex of nutrients and fiber that doesn’t exhibit the same biological effects as the free high fructose doses found in “corn sugar.’

The takeaway: Cane sugar and the industrially produced, euphemistically named “corn sugar” are not biochemically or physiologically the same.

3. HFCS contains contaminants including mercury that are not regulated or measured by the FDA.

An FDA researcher asked corn producers to ship a barrel of high fructose corn syrup in order to test for contaminants. Her repeated requests were refused until she claimed she represented a newly created soft drink company. She was then promptly shipped a big vat of HFCS that was used as part of the study that showed that HFCS often contains toxic levels of mercury because of chlor-alkali products used in its manufacturing.(i) Poisoned sugar is certainly not “natural.”

When HFCS is run through a chemical analyzer or a chromatograph, strange chemical peaks show up that are not glucose or fructose. What are they? Who knows? This certainly calls into question the purity of this processed form of super sugar. The exact nature, effects and toxicity of these funny compounds have not been fully explained, but shouldn’t we be protected from the presence of untested chemical compounds in our food supply, especially when the contaminated food product comprises up to 15 to 20 percent of the average American’s daily calorie intake?

4. Many independent medical and nutrition experts DO NOT support the use of HFCS in our diet, despite the assertions of the corn industry.

The corn industry’s happy looking websites www.cornsugar.com and www.sweetsurprise.com bolster their position that cane sugar and corn sugar are the same by quoting experts, or should we say mis-quoting …

Barry M. Popkin, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Nutrition, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has published widely on the dangers of sugar-sweetened drinks and their contribution to the obesity epidemic. In a review of HFCS in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,(ii) he explains the mechanism by which the free fructose may contribute to obesity. He states that:

“The digestion, absorption and metabolism of fructose differ from those of glucose. Hepatic metabolism of fructose favors de novo lipogenesis [production of fat in the liver]. In addition, unlike glucose, fructose does not stimulate insulin secretion or enhance leptin production. Because insulin and leptin act as key afferent signals in the regulation of food intake and body weight [to control appetite], this suggests that dietary fructose may contribute to increased energy intake and weight gain. Furthermore, calorically sweetened beverages may enhance caloric overconsumption.”

He states that HFCS is absorbed more rapidly than regular sugar, and that it doesn’t stimulate insulin or leptin production. This prevents you from triggering the body’s signals for being full and may lead to overconsumption of total calories.

He concludes by saying that:

“… the increase in consumption of HFCS has a temporal relation to the epidemic of obesity, and the overconsumption of HFCS in calorically sweetened beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity.”

The corn industry takes his comments out of context to support their position. “All sugar you eat is the same.”

True, pharmacologic doses of any kind of sugar are harmful, but the biochemistry of different kinds of sugar and their respective effects on absorption, appetite and metabolism are different.

David S. Ludwig, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School, and a personal friend has published extensively on the dangers and the obesogenic properties of sugar-sweetened beverages. He was quoted as saying that “high fructose corn syrup is one of the most misunderstood products in the food industry.” When I asked him why he supported the corn industry, he told me he didn’t and that his comments were taken totally out of context.

Misrepresenting science is one thing, misrepresenting scientists who have been at the forefront of the fight against obesity and high fructose sugar sweetened beverages is quite another.

5. HCFS is almost always a marker of poor-quality, nutrient-poor disease creating industrial food products or “food-like substances.”

The last reason to avoid products that contain HFCS is that they are a marker for poor-quality, nutritionally depleted, processed industrial food full of empty calories and artificial ingredients. If you find “high fructose corn syrup” on the label, you can be sure it is not a whole, real, fresh food full of fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and antioxidants. Stay away if you want to stay healthy. We still must reduce our overall consumption of sugar, but with this one simple dietary change you can radically reduce your health risks and improve your health.

While debate may rage about the biochemistry and physiology of cane sugar vs. corn sugar, this is, in fact, beside the point (despite the finer points of my scientific analysis above). The conversation has been diverted to a simple assertion that cane sugar and corn sugar are not different.

The real issues are only two.

1. We are consuming HFCS and sugar in pharmacologic quantities never before experienced in human history — 140 pounds a year vs. 20 teaspoons a year 10,000 years ago.

2. High fructose corn syrup is almost always found in very poor quality foods that are nutritionally vacuous and filled with all sorts of other disease-promoting compounds, fats, salt, chemicals and even mercury.

These critical ideas should be the heart of the national conversation, not the meaningless confusing ads and statements by the corn industry in the media and online that attempt to assure the public that the biochemistry of real sugar and industrially produced sugar from corn are the same.

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First off, let me tell you that I’m a friendly vegan! I’m not judgmental, and I truly believe that it’s not my business to tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t eat. I grew up in the South, greatly enjoying chicken-fried steak and barbecued ribs, and every kind of cheesy thing I could get my hands on. I loved meat; never thought about it. Until I thought about it. After a few years of transitioning, I’ve been vegan for seven years. And it seems I’m not alone.

I went out to dinner last night with friends and came home fairly hungry. If you don’t count the bread I tried not to eat too much of and the olives from my martini, or the little side dish of steamed vegetables, there wasn’t much I could call a meal. I scanned the menu for anything that I could eat, but all I saw was lobster, lamb, fish, steak, chicken, veal, pork, and pastas that had any combination of the aforementioned meats with cheese or cream. Nothing for me but the dreaded Grilled Vegetable Plate.

I would SO love a hearty dish with a center of the plate protein, with some TLC from the chef — i.e. sauces and garnishes — to make it just as fulfilling as the meat and dairy dishes. I would pay good money for it! And I know a lot of other people would too — and not just vegan people.

Eating vegan(ish) or vegetarian is mainstream now, and growing ever more so. Oprah, Ellen and Martha each devoted shows to eating vegan. “Good Morning America,” “Extra” and “Dr. Oz” have also dedicated segments to the growing popularity of eating less meat and more plant-based food, and you will find in just about every major magazine or newspaper, there are features about the ever increasing vegan trend. Natalie Portman, Tobey McGuire, Ellen DeGeneres, Portia de Rossi, Mike Tyson, Bill Clinton, Larry Page, Biz Stone, Ricky Williams and Tony Gonzales are all vegan (or veganish!); these folks are the trendsetters — actors, athletes, business and thought leaders.

I realize that vegan is not how the majority of people eat, and restaurants are in the business of giving their customers what they want, but the trend is quite assuredly moving toward reducing and replacing meat. In fact, I’ve noticed that when I can finagle something interesting from the chef (assuming the waiter bothers to approach him with the request) that is both hearty and healthy, nine out of ten times most of the people at the table will say, “I’ll have what she’s having.”

Whether it’s because someone wants a break from animal protein three meals a day every day, or they are concerned with their health or weight, or they want to be conscious eaters for the environment, a vegan option is extremely appealing when presented well.

The problem is, restaurants are generally not presenting them well. A plate of vegetables situated next to a baked potato is okay in a pinch, but I wouldn’t want to pay a lot for it, nor would I return to that restaurant for it. I would choose another place that everyone would be happy, where my husband could get fish and I could get something plant-based (and not just pasta with tomato sauce … too many carbs, and boring).

A meal that looks like what everyone else is enjoying would be so, so gratifying and appreciated! And there are so many ways to make a meal with a vegetarian protein using Gardein (looks and tastes like different meats, high protein, low fat and is available through distributors like Sysco and US Foods ), seitan (wheat protein … made into cutlets or strips), lentils, beans, tofu, chickpeas, tempeh or other high-protein meat alternatives. And on a business note, the profit margin is greater as plant-based protein is cheaper than animal protein, and is how many other cultures get protein.

Check out these stunning statistics on the where the food trend is going:

Number of Vegetarians/Vegans and Trends in Vegetarian/Vegan Eating

– In a 2010 study from marketing firm Context Marketing that included 600 respondents, they found that 21 percent said “vegetarian” is important or very important to them. Fourteen percent said “vegan” is important or very important to them.
– The average American ate 14 pounds less meat (including poultry) per year in 2009 (208 pounds per person) than in 2006 (222 pounds per person).
– In feedback surveys among college students at campuses that Bon Appétit Management Co. (which manages more than 4,000 corporate, college and university accounts)
oversees, in 2005-2006 an average of 8 percent said that they were vegetarian. The 2009-2010 survey, however, had very different results: 12 percent identified themselves as vegetarian.

Vegetarian/Vegan Trends in Dining Out

– According to a January 2011 USA Today article on marketing trends for 2011, 47 percent of Americans are trying to reduce their meat consumption.
– A 2009 issue of Nation’s Restaurant News suggested adding vegetarian/vegan options to the menu as one of its top strategies for improving business. The publication noted that vegetarian food is generally less expensive for restaurants to procure, and mentioned the “veto vote,” the tendency for families with one or more vegetarians to bypass any restaurant that serves no meat-free fare.

Let me just leave you with this: I often dine out in Santa Barbara, and my favorite restaurant is Lucky’s Steakhouse. They make a mean martini and have a fantastic wine list, and the ambiance is festive and fun. They now feature a tofu dish, right alongside the steak, chicken and fish on the menu. A few friends and I had requested something other than the dreaded Grilled Vegetable Plate for so long, they finally relented. Not happily, at first, but they did it. They took one of their fish dishes and simply swapped out the fish for tofu, grilled it over braised spinach and a sweet miso sauce.

I usually start with a chopped salad of three kinds of lettuce, chickpeas, onions and avocado. We get a side of sweet potato fries to share. I asked the manager how the dish was doing, and he said, “I’m shocked, but it’s flying out the door!” His customers are not vegan. Not even vegetarian or pescetarian. But everyone these days, it seems, wants to lighten up on meat a bit. And so they come to the steakhouse for the ambience and a good drink, and they enjoy a hearty protein-centered, plant-based meal, and everyone wins! The other restaurants, we simply don’t consider anymore because we want everyone — veg or carnivore — to be happy!

Here’s a little starter guide:

– Instead of milk or cream, use almond, soy or cashew cream
– Instead of butter, use Earth Balance (you would not know the difference)
– Instead of chicken broth, use vegetable broth
– Instead of chicken, use Gardein, seitan or tofu
– Instead of ground beef, use Smart Ground meatless crumbles or lentils
– Instead of cheese, use Daiya or Teese non-dairy cheese

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