TIME Diet/Nutrition

Lunch Brought From Home is Unhealthier Than Cafeteria Food

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Lunch boxes are light on veggies and packed with sodium

Most lunches brought from home don’t meet the nutritional guidelines set by the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), finds a new study.

Over the last few years, school lunches have undergone a makeover in hopes of curbing adolescent obesity and helping kids get healthier. Schools now provide more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat milk. Soda and sugar-sweetened beverages have been dismissed and vending machines restocked with healthier snacks. Even breakfast options are better for young people.

But the lunch revolution hasn’t yet reached the home front. Researchers Karen Cullen, a professor of pediatrics and nutrition at Baylor College of Medicine, and Michelle L. Caruso of the Houston Department of Health and Human Services discovered that kids who are bringing their lunches from home are nutritionally much worse off than those who are buying school lunches.

“We were in the schools doing other observations and noticed the lesser quality of meals from home, so we decided to look closer and actually measure it,” explains Cullen.

To figure out what exactly what’s being packed at home, Cullen and Caruso looked at the brought-from-home lunches of 242 kids at eight elementary schools and 95 kids in four middle schools in the Houston area over a two month period. They calculated the nutritional content of the home lunches compared to the NSLP guidelines, as well as how much the home lunches cost.

They found that lunches brought from home had more sodium, fewer servings of fruit, fewer vegetables, fewer whole grains and less milk. Perhaps the most staggering finding was that around 90% of the lunches from home had a sweetened beverage, snack chips and dessert in them. None of those items are permitted in school lunches.

“We saw a lot of pre-packaged meals, pouches of sweetened beverages, and popular chip products,” says Cullen.

And among the elementary school kids, lunches from home were more expensive than the school lunch offering. For middle school kids, that wasn’t consistently the case. Still, Cullen and Caruso say more research is needed in a larger population size to see just how great the disparities are between home and school lunches.

The study couldn’t conclude whether students or parents packed the lunches, but either way, Cullen and Caruso think that parents have a role in teaching their kids what’s healthy for lunch. “Parents need to involve their children more in planning meals and learning what makes them healthy,” says Cullen. “Food at home needs to be a joint collaboration.”

TIME Crime

Subway Robbery Suspect Said ‘Jared’ Diet Failed

Zachary Torrance says he didn’t lose weight

The man suspected of robbing a string of Subway sandwich shops in Alabama told authorities he did it because the “Jared diet” didn’t work for him, and he wanted his money back.

Jared is the name of a man who became a spokesperson for Subway after he purportedly lost a significant amount of weight by going on a diet consisting solely of fare from the sandwich chain.

Zachary Torrance, 18, was arrested at a Hueytown, Alabama, Walmart, after a citizen matched his face to surveillance footage. Torrance is suspected in Subway store robberies in Birmingham, Midfield and Adamsville, WVTM Birmingham reports.

[WVTM]

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Here’s Another Reason to Try the Mediterranean Diet

Mediterranean diet
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Bring on the nuts and veggies

The Mediterranean diet, high in vegetables, nuts and healthy fats like olive oil, has once again proven itself worthy of our plates.

People who maintained a version of the Mediterranean diet had a 50% lower risk of developing chronic kidney disease and a 42% lower risk of rapid kidney function decline, according to a new study published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. Over about seven years, researchers scored 900 participants’ diets on a scale based on how closely their eating habits resembled the Mediterranean diet. They found that every one-point increase in Mediterranean diet score was linked to a 17% decrease in their likelihood of developing chronic kidney disease—a disease that afflicts around 20 million Americans.

Though the researchers are not entirely certain why the Mediterranean diet is successful in warding off kidney disease, they believe it might have to do with the diet’s effects on inflammation in the kidney cells and the lining inside the heart and blood vessels. Past research has shown that the Mediterranean diet has positive effects on inflammation and blood pressure, which in turn benefits the kidneys.

The Mediterranean diet has been shown consistently to benefit the body; studies suggest it can keep you healthy in old age, ward off memory loss, fight diabetes, and lower risk of heart attacks, stroke, and childhood asthma. Of course, no diet is a cure-all, especially if it’s not accompanied by other healthy behaviors like exercising, drinking in moderation, and avoiding smoking. Still, the Mediterranean diet is certainly a good place to start.

TIME diet

The Mediterranean Diet Could Help Reverse Metabolic Syndrome

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Plus supplementary extra-virgin olive oil or nuts

The Mediterranean diet along with supplemental extra-virgin olive oil and nuts could help reverse metabolic syndrome, Spanish researchers say in a study that was published Tuesday.

Some 25% of adults suffer from metabolic syndrome, which increases their risk of stroke, heart disease and diabetes. The disease itself is the result of a combination of at least three of the following symptoms: high blood pressure, blood sugar, triglycerides, low HDL-cholesterol and obesity.

But according to the results of a clinical trial published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the Mediterranean diet — consisting of fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains, and limited bad fats — can reverse the diagnosis.

Researchers put 5,801 men and women ages 55-80 on a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil, supplemented with nuts, or a low fat diet as a control group. While 64% of the participants had metabolic syndrome at the beginning of the study, 28.2% of people on the diet with the syndrome no longer met the criteria after just under 5 years.

“Because there were no between-group differences in weight loss or energy expenditure, the change is likely attributable to the difference in dietary patterns,” said Dr. Jordi Salas-Salvadó, a co-author of the study. However, according to the study, “we found no beneficial effect of a Mediterranean diet on incidence of new-onset metabolic syndrome” — meaning the diet doesn’t help prevent the syndrome from occurring, a finding different from that of previous similar studies.

TIME health

15 Tiny Tweaks for an Instant Health Makeover

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We’ve compiled a list of super-simple healthy tweaks you can realistically make. Really. Like, starting tomorrow.

This post originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

It always struck me as slightly odd that we make health resolutions in January. Sure, a new year is a theoretical blank slate — and our holiday habits provide us with ample inspiration for things we’d very much like to change about the way we treat our bodies. And, it helps that everyone around us is making the same resolutions (which, coincidentally, are identical to the ones we made the year before).

But, I’d like to argue that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the New Year’s Resolution model: We set ourselves up to fail by committing to massive life changes in the middle of winter. Environmental factors contribute to a wide range of physical and psychological symptoms, such as lower energy and decreased motivation, that undermine even our best efforts in the colder months. Sure, we’d all like to eat cleaner and get to spin class a few mornings a week. But, starting that habit in 20-degree weather? Good luck. And, as we’ve said many times before, the more ambitious your resolution, the less likely you are to accomplish it — baby steps, it seems, are really the way to go.

With these thoughts in mind, we’ve compiled a list of super-simple healthy tweaks you can realistically make. Really. Like, starting tomorrow. Look at it this way: At this point in the year, you’re already eating better. Why not take your wellness game up a few more notches? Your body will thank you when January 1 rears its ugly head once again.

Tweak: Ditch artificial sweeteners

Switching out the sugar in our morning coffee for Splenda and Stevia seems like a no-brainer — they provide the sweetness we crave without any of the metabolic chaos that comes with a sugar habit. But, Shira Lenchewski, registered dietitian and nationally recognized nutrition expert, says that while the fake stuff seems better for your calorie intake, you’re actually making it harder to avoid real sugar. “Artificial sweeteners like Splenda contain a synthetic chemical called Sucralose, which is 600 times sweeter than natural sugar. Because Sucralose is so much sweeter than natural sugar, it overstimulates the taste buds, causing people to crave intensely sweet foods throughout the day.” And, recent research suggests that sucralose itself may be messing with your body’s insulin response. Try reaching for an apple to go with your coffee: Not only will it neutralize your sugar yen, but the fiber will help keep future cravings at bay throughout the day.

Tweak: Get the right amount of sleep

We all know how important it is to get enough sleep. As New York-based physician Dr. Frank Lipman puts it, “From serotonin production to blood sugar management, immunity, and heart health, sleep impacts every aspect of your health.” Says internationally recognized cardiologist Dr. Kevin Campbell, “Sleep is essential for our bodies to recharge and for our brains to repair important pathways associated with memory and learning new things.” But, as Campbell points out, more isn’t always better. He points to new research suggesting that the “perfect” amount of sleep may be 7 hours a night — although some people need more than others. Experiment to figure out how much sleep makes your body feel its best, and then commit to that number of hours — even if it means resisting the urge to hit snooze.

Tweak: Wash your hands

Here’s an easy one. Wash your hands more — especially after using the ATM. According to recent research, “ATMs harbor the same organisms seen in a public toilet,” Campbell explains. “It is important to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after touching ATM buttons in order to avoid exposure to nasty microbes and [to avoid carrying] them into your car or home.”

But, be sure to look for a soap that’s triclosan-free. A common ingredient in anti-microbial soaps, triclosan has been shown to seriously mess with hormone production and increase the risk of breast cancer. Luckily, there’s no need to reach for an anti-microbial: Research shows that products claiming to have anti-microbial properties are not better at preventing disease than regular old hand soap.

(MORE: The Truth About Your Post-Workout Snack)

 

Tweak: Snack smarter

We’re all familiar with the 3 p.m. snack attack — and how it can wreak havoc on our clean-eating intentions. But, as Campbell points out, there’s a right way and a wrong way to snack. “Research shows that eating two to three healthy snacks throughout the day can improve your metabolism, improve weight control, and reduce obesity. Snacks should be limited to 100 to 200 calories and should be rich in nutrients, such as fruits and veggies.” Lipman suggests incorporating hummus and avocado — the healthy fats in each go a long way toward keeping you full until your next meal.

Tweak: Stop “thirsty”

We’ve heard it before: Adequate hydration is essential to proper function of every body system, especially in the summer. But, it’s all too easy to get dehydrated — as Lipman points out, “if you wait until you’re thirsty to drink, then you’re already dehydrated.” Instead of letting that dry-mouth feeling come on, get into the routine of drinking eight to 10 ounces of water every hour or so, whether you’re thirsty or not. And, if you need extra incentive to keep refueling, try out a new hydration habit — flavor your water with lemon, cucumber, herbs, or in-season berries.

Tweak: Try jogging

We know, we know: Who wants to run in face-melting heat? Well, it doesn’t take much of a step up in the cardio department to generate a major net health benefit. According to Campbell, “Recent research shows that even jogging for as little as five minutes a day has been shown to reduce risk for heart disease, prolong life, and decrease heart attack risk.” Think about running around the block once or twice after dinner. In addition to the cardiovascular health benefits, getting your heart pumping will help kickstart your metabolism, giving your digestive system a serious boost.

Tweak: Increase probiotic intake

From Greek yogurt to kombucha, it doesn’t get much hipper these days than probiotics. Luckily, there’s some health science to back up this particular fad. As board-certified internist and weight-loss specialist Dr. Sue Decotiis points out, “Probiotics are a crucial part of a daily routine of healthy eating, supplementation, and physical activity. Probiotics help naturally “cleanse” our bodies by processing and eliminating toxins from our digestive tract. When our digestive tract is functioning efficiently, so are our hormones and metabolism.”

But, there’s more to the probiotic party than yogurt. Lipman suggest that you “develop a taste for…unpasteurized, fermented foods such as pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir, [which] feed your gut with trillions of healthy bacteria.” Try to incorporate one fermented food or drink into each day to keep your gut biome in tip-top shape.

Tweak: Replenish B vitamins

Winter isn’t the only time to be concerned about your vitamin intake. One easy wellness fix: Make sure you’re getting enough B vitamins. As Dr. Decotiis points out, B vitamins, like folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12, are essential for proper metabolic function, but they get depleted quickly and must be consumed daily. And, alcohol depletes B vitamins in the body — “All the more reason to increase intake especially after a long summer of social drinking.” Rather than popping supplements, load up on fruits and veggies (especially dark greens like kale), whole grains, fish, and eggs.

(MORE: 7 Harmful Diet Lies You Probably Believe)

Tweak: Cut back on alcohol

If you’re anything like us, you’ve been partying just a little bit harder these past few months — and we don’t blame you. After all, there’s nothing quite like drinking outside on a warm evening. But, consider cooling it a bit on the booze for the rest of the season. As Dr. Decotiis points out, “Besides the obvious that alcohol adds more to your daily caloric intake, it also affects hunger hormones.” Specifically, research has shown that alcohol decreases the amount of leptin, an appetite-suppressing hormone made by your endocrine system. This makes it harder for your body to register that it’s had enough to eat — leading you to overconsumption.

Tweak: Replace nonfat yogurt

In the past few years, nonfat yogurt manufacturers have made a killing on our collective fear of that short little “F” word. But, it turns out that avoiding fat like a deadly plague isn’t doing us as much good as we might think. Because it takes longer to digest, fat stays in your stomach longer, helping to keep you full after meals. And, as Lenchewski points out, “One of the most pervasive food myths is the idea that consuming dietary fat makes you fat. But, truthfully, consuming any macronutrient (carbohydrate, protein, or fat) in excess will result in weight gain. The fact is, fat adds flavor, and when it’s removed, sweeteners and artificial flavors are typically added in its place.” Then there’s the recent research suggesting that full-fat dairy is better for reducing body fat than nonfat options. Go ahead: indulge. Your metabolism will thank you.

Tweak: Plate your food

Research has already shown that the size and color of your plate can make a big difference in terms of how much you eat. But, here’s another plating-related trick to consider. While many of us go out of our way on presentation to impress our guests, pulling out all the tips and tricks we’ve learned from our Food Network marathons, we tend to get lazy when it’s just us. Think about spending a little time on the aesthetics of your dinners for one. A bit of effort can go a long way toward teaching us to be mindful of what we’re putting into our bodies. Lenchewski says, “When food is plated beautifully and thoughtfully, it makes the meal or snack more appetizing and enjoyable, and as research suggests, can even prevent overeating.”

Tweak: Put food away

Even when you try to eat well by cooking something healthy, you’re not out of the woods. Sometimes, there’s nothing more tempting than that second helping. But, if you find yourself reaching for a refill — whether you’re hungry or not — here’s a no-brainer fix. Board-certified internist Dr. Pat Salber suggests removing temptation altogether. “After you plate your food, immediately put the rest in the fridge so you won’t be tempted to help yourself to seconds.” Out of sight, out of mind. Added bonus: This way, cleanup gets done beforedinner.

Tweak: Set goals for fall

One way to deal with the seemingly inevitable downturn in wellness in the fall and winter? Be deliberate about setting specific goals before bad weather (or seasonal affective disorder) gives you an excuse to crank up the lazy. Dr. Decotiis suggests a proactive approach to your wellness goals by taking accountability before things start to go south. “Start tracking your eating and exercise habits again, and you might be surprised with your findings. If you’ve fallen off the wagon, there’s no better time to get back on track than right now. You’ll go into the fall and winter feeling better about yourself.”

Tweak: Befriend vinegar

Vinegar has long been a favorite in alternative medicine circles for treating everything from acne to ear infections. But, one proven benefit should take the sour stuff into the spotlight for good. Apple cider vinegar has been shown to help regulate blood sugar, which helps keep your most intense food urges under control. Lenchewski says, “Vinegar helps fight sugar cravings by inhibiting the hunger hormone (ghrelin) and preventing blood sugar from spiking after a meal.” Try incorporating ACV into your daily routine with an afternoon cocktail of 1 tablespoon of vinegar mixed with 1 teaspoon of honey and 8 ounces of grapefruit juice.

(MORE: 6 Hydration Myths And What You Need to Know)

Tweak: Re-think dessert

Eating better doesn’t have to mean giving up dessert. It’s all about putting a little bit of thought into how you indulge. As Lipman points out, “The quickest way to whip up a sweet and healthy treat is to make your own popsicles. Freeze your favorite smoothies or juice with a few chunks of fruit or berries.” Even better? Throw a little kale into the mix for a super-healthy, refreshing, and fiber-packed dessert.

 

TIME Obesity

Americans Are Still Getting Larger

The latest on our ever-expanding waistlines

A sobering new study by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that American adults are still getting heavier.

Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) showed that the overall average waist circumference of more than 32,800 participants increased “progressively and significantly” from 37.6 inches in 1999-2000 to 38.8 inches in 2011-2012–a 54.2% increase.

The data, which was published in JAMA, also underlines why it’s problematic to base weight status and health on body mass index (BMI). The researchers note that prior analyses using the exact same surveys but focusing on BMI have concluded that obesity prevalence has not changed significantly and perhaps even leveled off. The researchers write that positive developments in eating and exercise “have given hope that the decades-long increase in the prevalence of obesity in the United States may have crested.” But their data shows abdominal obesity is actually increasing.

There’s debate over whether we should stop using BMI as a measure for obesity since the numbers can be misleading. For instance, some people may have a lot of good lean muscle that puts them in a heavier category. Waist circumference is more indicative of where body fat is resting, and it’s well established that the fat hugging the belly is considered the most dangerous for future health problems. A continuous increase in waist circumference is therefore a bad sign.

Study author Dr. Earl S. Ford of the CDC says they don’t have a great explanation for the findings, but the reason waist circumference may still be rising even if BMI isn’t could have to do with factors like sleep deprivation, hormones or certain medications.

Obesity in the U.S. is an epidemic, and about one third of U.S. adults qualify as obese. As a nation, we haven’t exactly been ignoring the trend: The government launched the Let’s Move! campaign to increase physical activity in young people, and overhauls of school lunches have provided healthier options. So what’s not working?

Some research has shown that it’s not just what people are eating that contributes to obesity, but the fact that we lead such sedentary lives. Other research shows that both parents and kids have stopped seeing obesity as a problem. In August, research published in the journal Pediatrics showed mothers often do not view their kids as overweight, possibly because their child fits the norm of his or her peers. “We rarely compare our weight status against an absolute scale or a number recommended by doctors,” said study author Dr. Jian Zhang of Georgia Southern University in an interview with TIME. “Instead we compare to what our friends, neighbors, and coworkers look like.” Another recent report published in JAMA showed that misperceptions about whether young people are overweight are common among both youth and their parents.

“[The results] are not a great surprise. It’s amazing how much we are not doing right…A lot of entities in our culture don’t want the confusion to end,” says Dr. David Katz, founding director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. “I do respect the argument about nanny states, but there has to be some basic propriety attached to this. Peddling junk food to children is just wrong.”

Katz argues that even the best advice can’t succeed if there’s mixed messaging, like when Olympic athletes promote McDonald’s or Coca Cola. If we can parse through the confusion, the tried and true ways to maintain weight are the same. If we stick to them, maybe our waistlines can stay the same, too–or even one day start to get smaller.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

This Is How Many Calories You’d Eat With Olive Garden’s Pasta Pass

Jeffery Patrick—Darden

You could consume more than 100,000 calories taking advantage of the offer

It sounds like a good deal: for $100 you can eat all the pasta, salad and bread you want at Olive Garden for 49 straight days. But taking advantage of the offer has its downsides—perhaps up to 113,190 of them. That’s the number of calories you would likely consume if you were to have a standard dinner nightly at the restaurant for the 7-week period of the offer. That works out to eating about 2,100 calories for dinner alone. Americans’ average total daily caloric intake is between 1,800 for women and 2,600 for men, according to recent government data.

TIME’s estimate assumes you’re eating a fairly standard Olive Garden dinner: a chicken Caesar salad, one order of bread sticks, a spaghetti and sausage entree and a Coke to wash it all down. All of those items are included in the offer, and this estimate assumes you don’t continue to scarf down food after the first serving of each item (the offer is technically “all you can eat”).

“No matter how much we talk about epidemic obesity and diabetes, we have not yet caught up with the times,” says Dr. David Katz, director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center and editor of a journal on childhood obesity. “The last thing we need is more refined pasta at no extra charge. It seems like a great deal until the money you saved goes to the endocrinologist.”

Of course, there are less caloric dinner options at Olive Garden. For instance, you would consume 1,670 calories per meal if you subbed in seafood alfredo instead of the sausage pasta—and you could shave off even more if you skipped the Coke.

But, says Katz, that’s beside the point. “Everybody overeats at an all you can eat buffet. You’re missing out the bargain if you don’t eat all you can eat,” Katz says.

Recent research has suggested that the caloric content of many sit-down restaurant chains makes them just as unhealthy as their fast food counterparts. The average size of a meal at these restaurants, according to the study, is 1,400 calories.

TIME Research

Study: Pesticides Could Cause Unexpected Allergic Reactions

New regulations could stem the risk

Traces of antibiotic pesticides in fruits and vegetables may trigger unexpected allergic reactions for people with food allergies, according to a new study published in Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

“As far as we know, this is the first report that links an allergic reaction to fruits treated with antibiotic pesticides,” said lead study author Anne Des Roches in a press release.

The study looked at a patient who suffered from anaphylactic shock after eating a blueberry pie, despite not being allergic to any of the ingredients. After weeks of testing with both the patient and a sample of the pie, researchers concluded that the pesticide streptomycin, which is used in orchards, had triggered the reaction.

The use of such pesticides remains legal in the United States, though new Food and Drug Administration regulations may help address the issue, according to the study. The pesticides are illegal in some European countries, Roches said.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Training Your Brain Could Make You Prefer Healthy Food

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Which is more appealing: cheese pizza or salad? For many, the lure of lettuce hardly matches that of greasy comfort food, but new brain research from Tufts University published in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes suggests that reconditioning can train adults to prefer healthy food and shun the junk.

“We don’t start out in life loving French fries and hating, for example, whole wheat pasta,” said study co-author and Tufts University professor Susan B. Roberts in a press release. “This conditioning happens over time in response to eating – repeatedly! – what is out there in the toxic food environment.”

The researchers studied the brain scans of 13 people, then assigned eight of them to a new behavioral intervention geared toward weight loss. The program taught lessons on portion control and distributed menu plans geared around specific dietary targets, encouraging people to get 25% of their energy from protein and fat and 50% from low-glycemic carbohydrates, with more than 40 g of fiber per day. After six months either on or off the program, a second round of scans showed the part of the brain associated with addiction and learning had changed in people who participated in the program and stayed the same in the control group. That brain region appeared more active and sensitive to healthier foods and less sensitive to caloric foods among people in the weight-loss group.

Though the study acknowledges the need for further research, the findings suggest that it may be possible to recondition our cravings from cheese puffs to carrots. “Our study shows those who participated in it had an increased desire for healthier foods along with a decreased preference for unhealthy foods,” co-author Sai Krupa Das, an assistant professor at Tufts, said in the release, “the combined effects of which are probably critical for sustainable weight control.”

TIME Cancer

How Diet Can Lower Risk of Prostate Cancer

Tomato and bean consumption helps prevent the disease

Consuming more than ten servings a week of tomatoes and beans lowers the risk of prostate cancer, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Bristol.

The findings expand on previous research and suggest that men should consume foods rich in lycopene and selenium, which are found in tomatoes and beans respectively, to help prevent the onset of a disease that kills about 30,000 men in the United States each year.

The study compared the diets of more than 1,800 men between the ages of 50 and 69 who had prostate cancer to the diets of more than 12,000 of their cancer-free peers.

While the study’s conclusions provide some dietary guidance, researchers say more work needs to be done to develop further dietary guidelines.

“Our findings suggest that tomatoes may be important in prostate cancer prevention. However, further studies need to be conducted to confirm our findings, especially through human trials,” said Vanessa Er, a researcher at the University of Bristol who led the study. “Men should still eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, maintain a healthy weight and stay active.”

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