December 9, 2008

Eat nuts for your heart

Researchers in Spain found that eating nuts reduced risks for heart disease when added to a Mediterranean diet, which has been previously shown to also reduce heart disease. Nuts are full of unsaturated fat, which can actually help lower blood triglycerides. This is another piece of evidence to show that the advice to eat a low-fat diet was misguided. It's not so much how much fat you eat, but what kind. You can read the article here

December 5, 2008

Minnesota: Less healthy than last year

Minnesota is now the fourth healthiest state, down from number two last year, and number one in 2002-2006, according to an article in the Star Tribune. One of the reasons for the drop is a reduction in spending on public health. Minnesota spends $45 per person on public health, putting it 43rd in the nation in spending. This is not good news for those of us in public health. The state legislature did approve $47 million for public health programs last year. However, I've heard from some that the money is vulnerable to allocation to other programs, which I think is a distinct possibility, taking budget shortfalls and the economy into account. There are other reasons why Minnesota has fallen in the rankings, you can read the article here.

November 30, 2008

Eating local around the country

I am really interested in eating local as much as possible, mostly because of the environmental benefits. I found this map on Epicurious.com, a cooking website, that lists all in-season produce for each state, during each month. Clicking on Minnesota is a bit disheartening, as December through May is listed as the "dormant season." It's interesting to look at the growing season for other states, too, like Alaska or Hawaii.

November 22, 2008

Job Opportunities

Jobs may be hard to come by in the next few years. If anyone is looking, I found these two job descriptions on the Center for Consumer Freedom website:

Senior Writer

Free-market-oriented Washington D.C. research and communications organization seeks a talented, creative writer with a proven record of published work. Applicant must be able to produce original columns and articles and have a demonstrated ability to utilize wit and humor to illustrate free-market ideas.

Researcher/Analyst

You are committed to the free market and individual empowerment, with a healthy skepticism of sacred cows. People think of you as an inquisitive, high-energy individual with a probing mind and a good sense of humor.

We are a fast-paced, non-profit organization that specializes in strategic research, communications and advertising – all in the service of shaping public debates. For more information on our approach to policy debates, you can check out a recent profile on 60 Minutes.

We provide an entrepreneurial atmosphere where responsibility and rewards are the result of talent and judgment, not seniority. Members of our elite team enjoy competitive compensation, a lucrative financial incentive plan, and non-stop adrenaline.

When you are hired, this is the type of work you will expected to produce:
Don't Be a Turkey This Thanksgiving: Insist On The Obesity Liability Waiver
Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Food Cops

The Center for Consumer Freedom is a nonprofit that claims to be "devoted to promoting personal responsibility and protecting consumer choices." According to a commentary recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the center is funded primarily through donations from food companies such a Coca-Cola, Cargill, Tyson, and Wendy's. These companies purport themselves as leaders in promoting health: "We want to help empower people around the world to develop active, healthy lifestyles through our commitments, our actions and our dedication of resources to three guiding principles: Think, Drink and Move"(Coke). Could it be that they're talking out of both sides of their mouth?


November 11, 2008

Hunger: a growing problem

With all the focus on obesity and over-consumption of food, I think we forget sometimes that millions of people in this country are going hungry. This article from today's New York Times reports that 35.5 million Americans are food insecure, which means they sometimes lack enough to eat, and 10.1 million are often hungry.

This figure is only going to continue rising, given the economic trouble the country is experiencing. On top of rising rates of hunger, food banks and soup kitchens, are seeing donations slow.

Undernutrition and overnutrition are both major public health issues in this country, which require concerted effort to combat.

November 8, 2008

KFC $10 Challenge Challenged

KFC has a commercial running right now that shows a family trying to cook a meal for under $10. They shop for the ingredients, tally the total, then give up and go to KFC for the seven piece meal deal. A blogger on Grist.org took the challenge, shopping and cooking the meal for $7.94. You can read his account here.

It seems like everyone is trying to find their angle in regards to the economy. Now, I think it's a little sanctimonious to suggest that people should spend hours preparing a chicken making gravy from the giblets, etc. That's just not reality for many people. However, I do think cheap, unhealthy food from fast food restaurants contributes to obesity and chronic diseases in our country. It will be interesting to see how the economy affects people's food consumption, whether they cook more at home (almost inherently healthier) or eat cheap fast food more.

November 3, 2008

Does the obesity epidemic equal a change in politics?

In the spirit of the obsession on politics our country is consumed with right now, I thought I would post this blog posting from the New York Times. Now, it is important to remember that the blog itself is called "On The Wild Side."

The author, Olivia Judson, wonders if the high rates of obesity in this country can affect our political leanings. She cites a study in Science that found that people who support more conservative platforms such as increased military spending or warrantless wiretapping startle easier, whereas people who support more progressive causes, such as immigration or gun control have milder responses.

She then describes interesting ways that animals differ behaviorally from others of their own kind based on hormones they were subjected to during development. For example, female sparrows who are exposed to greater levels of testosterone are less timid than other females.

She then explains that human fetuses are also exposed to hormones during development. Obese women may be sharing different hormonal levels with their fetuses then normal weight women during pregnancy because fat tissues release hormones, including an estrogen-like compound. Judson wonders if the obesity in the mother will affect her offspring's personality, which will in turn affect their political leanings. With the high rates of obesity, will enough people be influenced by their overweight mother's hormones to affect the policy of this country?

I think this is a huge, gigantic, enormous stretch. It's interesting to ponder for a second, but to do the math: A (people's political leanings) times B (fetal hormone exposure) equals C (influencing the political landscape) does not hold up very well.

I do think this is a good example of being critical about the things you read (most of the people who commented were very critical!). Also, I think it is a good example of reaching too far to make a story out of nothing to appeal to current events or thinking.

October 29, 2008

Soundbites

I just got back yesterday (Tuesday 10/28) from the American Dietetic Association's Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo, the organization's annual conference, in Chicago. I attended a lot of interesting seminars over the weekend (and a couple of duds).

One session I went to was about working with the media. I've done some media training before, but now that I've been in this class, I have a different view of media from the reporting and writing side as well. The presenters talked about all the normal tactics used during an interview, such as bridging (looping back to the point you want to make), hooking (setting the interviewer up to ask the question you want to answer) and flagging (calling attention to your key message).

They stressed the importance of "staying positive amid controversy." For example, there is conflicting research about the benefit of soy (it is a great protein source, but may have estrogenic effects, etc). The presenter suggested emphasizing that soy is "a great food, but a modest medicine." And, if all else fails, say "sometimes research means we need to do more research."

In class we talked about those people who are media savvy, and know how to give a great interview. Turns out this is a skill that people learn and practice over and over again before they become good at it.

Now, I ask, as a reporter, who would you rather interview: someone who is easy to talk to, and has all their soundbites in a row, or someone who isn't quite as sophisticated, but perhaps honest and raw? Who gives more quality answers? Who makes your job easier? Who gives a better picture of the real story?

October 20, 2008

Does Coke makes you hungry?

A really interesting study about fructose's role in creating leptin resistance will be published in the American Journal of Physiology. Researchers at the University of Florida fed rats fructose, a type of sugar found naturally in fruit, and unnaturally in soft drinks. The control rats ate a normal rat diet without fructose. The rats who ate fructose became resistant to the hormone leptin, which signals the brain to stop eating when full.

The researchers then fed these same rats a high fat, high calorie diet, "the kind many Americans eat." Not surprisingly, the leptin resistant rats ate more, and gained more weight than the leptin sensitive rats.

Diabetes is a chronic disease that develops from insensitivity to the hormone insulin. Could obesity be caused by an insensitivity to leptin? The research hasn't proven that obesity is that simple, but leptin probably has some role.

What is really interesting about this study is that it links fructose to obesity. Not only is pop just empty calories, with no nutritional value, it may be causing someone to become obese. High fructose corn syrup isn't just in Coke, however, it is added to many foods. I think I'll start looking at the ingredient list even more carefully.

October 19, 2008

Continuing the Vitamin D discussion

In her comment Sara wondered about other food sources of Vitamin D that people could increase in their diet, instead of taking supplements. Milk is a good source of Vitamin D, only because it is fortified. Very few foods naturally contain Vitamin D in any appreciable amount. Fatty fish like salmon or sardines do have some, but I don't see kids starting to eat a lot of sardines all of a sudden. The sun really is our best source, unfortunately for us above the 45th parallel, as Bill pointed out. So, supplementation may be our best bet.

October 13, 2008

Are we all Vitamin D deficient?

An Associated Press story today covered a new recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics for daily vitamin D doses for children. The group advises doubling the previous recommendation of 200 units daily to 400. The previous recommendation was set because that is the minimum amount of vitamin D needed to prevent rickets in children, which used to be a very common deformity caused by malnutrition. However, not much was known about other chemical mechanisms vitamin D participates in in the body. Recent research has shown that a deficiency in the vitamin may be linked to heart disease, some types of cancer, depression and a host of other maladies. I am especially interested in vitamin D because, as Minnesotans, it is possible that we are deficient for a significant portion of the year, when we don't get outside in the sun. However, I also guard against vitamin D as a panacea, as some professionals do. However, the prospect of a relatively simple supplement could affect something as intricate and debilitating as cancer or heart disease or depression is intriguing.

October 8, 2008

NYT's Idea Lab: Losing the Weight Stigma

This is an interesting article in the Time's Magazine about the "healthy at any weight" movement. The idea is that focusing on body weight as a metric for health is not supported by evidence, and the label "fat" can be detrimental to a person's self-image.

The article cites a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine that a large number of overweight and obese people have normal health indicators such as blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. So, labeling these people as unhealthy by this definition is wrong.

I do think it's important for everyone to have a positive self-image and self confidence. I do also wholeheartedly agree that sometimes people who are obese suffer from discrimination (a poll in the UK found that 90 percent of hiring managers would hire a thinner applicant over an obese one (The Times, London 1/23/2008)). So, I think health care professionals need to guard against labeling people offhand based on a BMI chart.

However, overweight and obesity IS a problem in this country, and around the world. Not addressing the problem because of fear of offense is also not a solution. Blaming the victim is not helpful, but neither is placation. The researcher in the article who advocates fat acceptance recommends eating only when hungry, and replacing junk with nutritious food. Isn't that what we all should be doing, regardless of size?

If it were only so easy.

October 2, 2008

Welcome

Hello! Welcome to Nutrition Nugget. (I know, I know, a little corny. I'm working on it!) This blog is mainly for a class I'm in right now- Health Writing. Journalism is not my major, I'm in Public Health Nutrition. To this blog I will post journal articles, news stories, other websites or blogs, or anything else about nutrition I find interesting. I will also do a little commentary. I've never blogged before, so this will be interesting!