Archive for September, 2012

Many consider diet drinks as a way to reduce sugar and calories while still enjoying colas and beverages. Is that a good idea?

In recent years, children have more than doubled the amount of diet beverages they drink. Since 2008, adults increased their intake from 19 percent to 25 percent.

But controversy continues. Recent studies of more than 42,000 Americans found that those who drank diet drinks tended to weigh more than those who drank water. Other studies noted that consumers of diet drinks increased their risks for metabolic syndrome (a cluster of factors more likely to result in type 2 diabetes, heart problems, and strokes). But those same participants who drank artificially sweetened beverages and ate a healthful diet were less likely to develop metabolic syndrome than those who consumed a poor diet (18 and 20 percent, respectively).

Compared to regular sugar-sweetened colas or moderate intake of diet colas, drinking diet beverages daily may increase risks for stroke, heart attacks, and other heart-related conditions. In animal studies, artificial sweeteners boosted appetite and food intake—as  yet unproven in humans.

So, are diet drinks good or bad? A study of 33,000 Americans published in September 2012 provided proof for the harmful effects of sugary drinks in certain people. Sugar interacted with genes that affected weight. All of us have a few of those genes, but some have more than others. Those with genes predisposed to weight gain that drank sugary drinks put on more weight, regardless of exercise or overeating. In this study, diet drinks did not increase risks for obesity.

In a 2012 position paper, The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics stated that “consumers can safely enjoy a range of nutritive sweeteners and nonnutritive sweeteners (NNS). . . [as] guided by current federal nutrition recommendations.” (see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0014899/ and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0003096/ ).

How does all this information translate for you and me? One study suggested that children replace diet beverages with milk or water. That’s a good thought for all ages, but will we do it?

What we know scientifically at this point is that evidence remains inconclusive. Sugary drinks will cause weight gain, and diet drinks may cause greater risks for certain health conditions.

The wisest choice seems to be moderation. Try drinking fewer sugary and artificially sweetened beverages. With a conscious effort, you can improve your weight and health while researchers continue to seek what is good or bad.

Read Full Post »

English: Cacao (Theobroma cacao) Español: Plan...

English: Cacao (Theobroma cacao) Español: Planta de Cacao (Theobroma cacao) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s exciting news for chocolate lovers. New studies have found more health benefits from chocolate.

This decadent food comes from cacao (or cocoa) beans. Actually, they aren’t beans but seeds from the theobroma cacao tree. The name Theobroma originated from the Greek “food of the gods”—theos meaning “god” and broma meaning “food.” Few would disagree that tasty chocolate morsels fit that definition. Unlike many fruits and seeds, cacao grows along the tree trunk. Once harvested, seeds are fermented, dried, roasted, and milled to produce chocolate liquor.

Health benefits of chocolate come from flavanols, one of several well-known antioxidants. Chocolate, like other foods with high flavanol levels, seems to lessen risks of cardiovascular (heart) disease. Likewise, it lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol and increases HDL (good) cholesterol. Chocolate influences other health conditions which may or may not relate to heart disease.

  • Cognitive function: By the age of seventy, 6% of older adults have developed mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Those with MCI who are otherwise in good health may benefit from chocolate. Three groups of elderly participants consumed drinks with 990 milligrams (mg), 520 mg, and 45 mg of cocoa flavanols daily for eight weeks. The two groups who consumed drinks with more antioxidants seemed to think faster, respond more rapidly to questions, and demonstrate better verbal fluency. Additionally, they showed improvement in insulin resistance and blood pressure.  Results could be directly from flavanols in cocoa or as a secondary effect related to better cardiovascular function.
  • Blood Pressure: Healthy people who used approximately 100 grams daily of chocolate or cocoa experienced a drop in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Flavanol promoted vasodilation and thus reduced blood pressure.
  • Stroke: In a ten-year study, men who ate high levels of chocolate had a lower risk of stroke. Typically, the subjects ate the equivalent of one-third cup of chocolate chips each week. Those who ate chocolate had a 17% lower risk of stroke than those who avoided it.

Is chocolate a panacea? Chocolate can be part of a healthy diet for those of appropriate weight. For the overweight and obese, increased amounts of chocolate may aggravate weight problems since foods with chocolate tend to be higher in fat, sugar, and calories. Other foods with high flavanol content may be better choices for the weight conscious, but who wants to choose broccoli over chocolate? Indulge your taste buds occasionally with chocolate but stay mindful of the calories.

Additional information on these studies can be found at:




Read Full Post »

Who do you want to make the choice of what you eat or drink?

Michael R. Bloomberg, mayor of New York City, proposed a ban on the sale of super-sized sugary drinks in the city’s restaurants, sport stadiums, movie theaters and other select places (see post for 6-7-12—“Should Government Control Portion Sizes?”). The mayor considered the plan a sensible way to cut calories and reduce the obesity rate. During his term, the city has banned trans fats in restaurant servings and required chain restaurants to post the number of calories in the foods they serve.

The current proposed ban created national pro and con debates. Supporters of the ban cite the high sugar content of drinks and the prevalence of obesity. The diet companies, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, and others, support the mayor’s idea. However, the president of Weight Watchers, David Burwick, admitted that consumers needed to take more personal responsibility for their food choices. His concern was consumer’s lack of recognition of appropriate portion sizes.

About half of New Yorkers drank at least one cola (soda) each week, while about a third drank several colas per week. Diet drinks in New York City are less popular than full-sugared ones, a comparison of 53% to 23%.  Nearly 70% of Black and 60% of Hispanic New Yorkers tended to drink sugary drinks compared to about 40% of white residents. More of those who were obese were blacks and Hispanics.

However, diet drinks consumed by children nationwide doubled in the past decade. Adults, too, have increased their intake of diet drinks. Studies disagreed on the benefits of sugar-free beverages. Those who drank them tended to weigh more than those who chose water.

Opponents of the mayor’s ban represented every age, race, gender, political persuasion, and soda-consumption habits. Sixty percent of New York City citizens regarded the mayor’s plan a bad idea, while only 36% thought it was good. Other polls showed city voters disagreed 54% to 42%. Those opposed believed consumers should have the freedom to make personal choices and considered it an infringement on civil liberties.

On September 13, 2012, the Board of Health, whose members were appointed by the mayor, will vote on the issue. Many council members regarded the city council as responsible for the decision. Some members considered the idea offensive because it interfered with people’s lives. As one council member noted, it would be more helpful to educate people about healthier choices instead of delegating what people can and cannot do.

While consumers support regulations for food safety, choices of selecting high-calorie foods fall under a different category. Does it affect the freedom of choice for individuals and businesses? Of those responding to polls, most believed it did. Does government have the right to dictate what people can and cannot eat? The majority of New Yorkers didn’t think so.

What do you think?

Read Full Post »