TIME Diet/Nutrition

Better Grocery Stores Alone Can’t Improve Kids’ Diets, Study Finds

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Even if you build them, they won’t come, says the latest study on finding ways to get more healthy foods to young children

There’s been a lot of talk lately about food deserts and lack of access to healthy, nutritious food for many families living in rural and lower-income urban areas. So the solution seems to be to increase the availability of healthier fare, and what better way than to build a full service supermarket in the neighborhoods without one?

That’s what a government-sponsored program called Health Food Financing Initiative does, enticing supermarket chains to build stores in lower income areas with favorable tax credits. These stores are also required to meet some criteria meant to make the most of their presence in areas where fresh and nutritious foods are harder to come by. In New York, for example, the state program requires that at least 30% of a store’s floor space be devoted to perishable foods like produce and fruit, with at least 500 square feet dedicated specifically to fresh produce.

MORE: How the Nation’s Nutrition Panel Thinks You Should Be Eating

A new study published in journal Public Health Nutrition looked at whether the supermarkets are actually making a difference. Brian Elbel, associate professor of population health and health policy at New York University School of Medicine, and his colleagues compared eating habits in families in a part of the Bronx with a new supermarket and in a close by neighborhood without one.

To capture any change in the families’ food-buying habits over time, the researchers stopped parents on the street in these neighborhoods and asked them questions about their eating and food buying patterns, and then called the participants around six months later, and again a year after that first encounter.

The results were sobering. While there was an increase in those who said they shopped at the supermarket between the first and second rounds of questioning, that difference disappeared a year later. What the families were buying also didn’t change much, despite the supermarket selling fresh and healthy foods. At the start of the study 77% of those living in the neighborhood with the new supermarket said they had fresh fruits and vegetables in their homes, which dropped to 68% by the second follow up. The other neighborhood, however, showed a similar decline, from 78% to 65%.

MORE: Most Schools Still Don’t Meet Federal Nutrition Standards

In fact, both neighborhoods showed similar changes in food-buying trends, including positive ones such as a decrease in the availability of cookies, cakes, pastries and salty snacks in the home, so Elbel says it’s not possible to attribute them to the presence of the supermarket in the one community.

“It’s very clear that a supermarket alone does bring access to healthy food,” says Elbel. “But at the same time, does it bring unhealthy stuff, and introduce new products to the neighborhood that weren’t there before? Potentially.”

While healthy foods were available at the store, for example, they were not always the most affordable items, or the ones that the store promoted with special discounts or deals. Cost, it seems, overrules nutrition for many families making food-buying decisions.

While programs to increase the availability of full service food stores are laudable, Elbel says his results highlight the fact that access isn’t the only answer. “We can definitely imagine criteria that would make it more stringent for stores to qualify for these programs, and provide more detail on how the store is structured, what products are promoted or which products are available and how they are priced,” he says. “The question is, if we provide the tax credits and these constraints, will stores still be interested in opening in [food desert] neighborhoods? I don’t know.”

MORE: Nearly 60% Of People Use Nutrition Info on Menus

It’s also possible that the supermarket didn’t have the impact public health officials anticipated because the neighborhoods already had reasonable access — a train or bus ride away — to full service stores, before the new store opened. Almost 90% of the participants said they shopped at a supermarket, not convenience stores, for meals they made at home, so the new store likely didn’t do much to change that pattern. That suggests, says Elbel, that policy makers may also need stricter definitions of food deserts or areas that need nutritional attention.

“Just building a supermarket is not enough,” he says. “We need more data on what exactly a food desert is, and exactly where to place a supermarket. We have to look at access more broadly, and make clear that improving health is not just about access.” That’s a bigger challenge, but as the study shows, needs to be addressed if healthier fare is going to find its way onto more dinner plates.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

How Your Taste Buds Can Help You Lose Weight

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Research shows that our flavor preferences may affect our weight and health in surprising ways

It’s no big secret that people have different taste preferences. Some of us gleefully devour arugula salads for lunch, while others won’t touch greens unless they’re baked and smothered in cheese (and sometimes not even then). Some people gulp down pumpkin spice lattes; others go into sugar shock after just one sip.

“When it comes to taste, each one of us is hardwired differently,” says Valerie Duffy, RD, professor of nutritional science at the University of Connecticut. And emerging research is showing that our flavor preferences may affect our waistlines and health in surprising ways. Check out the fascinating scoop on exactly what’s going on inside your mouth and how to tap your taste buds to dump unwanted pounds.

Read more: Best and Worst Foods for Your Teeth

Did you know that there are three types of tasters: supertasters, nontasters and people who fall somewhere in between? Finicky types, with their hypersensitive taste buds, tend to belong to the first group. If you’re a supertaster, you find the flavors in foods really intense. Desserts taste too sweet, bitter foods are too bitter and spicy foods—well, you get the picture. That’s why you’re less likely to inhale a plate of brownies, and you probably don’t make the best drinking buddy (the ethanol in alcohol—yech).

Yet vegetables may pose a challenge for supertasters, who can be particularly sensitive to the bitter compounds in dark, leafy greens. One study co-authored by Duffy showed that they ate almost one fewer serving a day than their peers. As Duffy notes, “Supertasters will probably need to minimize the bitterness in Brussels sprouts, say, to develop a taste for them.” The one thing these picky eaters typically can’t get enough of: salty foods, which may trigger overeating.

Read more: 13 Foods That Are Saltier Than You Realize

Research finds that roughly 25 percent of Americans are supertasters. About 25 percent are nontasters, and the rest of us fall in the middle. Why are you turned off by curry takeout while your dinner companion can’t get enough of it? Unclear, but it may be in your genes (for example, a specific variant of the gene TAS2R38 can make bitter compounds overwhelming to supertasters), says Linda Bartoshuk, PhD, Bushnell Professor of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Florida. What many supertasters seem to have in common is a high number of taste papillae, the tiny bumps on the tongue where taste buds live.

Nontasters, on the other hand, simply perceive flavors and textures less intensely. On the plus side, they find leafy greens sweet rather than bitter, so they’re more apt to polish them off. But they tend to be relatively insensitive to fat and creamy textures, which may make them overindulge. Not surprisingly, some research suggests that nontasters are at greater risk of excessive weight gain and cardiovascular disease than the rest of the population. Since they have duller taste sensations, they may need to eat more food to feel satisfied.

Read more: 10 Heart-Healthy Rules to Live By

How extra weight messes with food satisfaction

While taste clearly affects your waistline, the opposite also seems to be true: Extra weight may dim sensitivity to flavors. One possible reason is that those additional pounds influence hormone levels throughout the body, which changes the way taste receptors relay information to the brain. A Stanford University study found that a group of obese preoperative bariatric surgery patients had less taste sensitivity than a control group of normal-weight individuals.

Although shedding weight can help restore some lost taste sensation, it might not bring it back completely. “Taste is like any other system and may become dulled with overuse,” explains John Morton, MD, lead author of the Stanford study. “What we really need is to appreciate our food more.”

Trick your appetite!

As anyone who has ever stuffed herself at dinner but still had room for dessert knows, the stomach works in mysterious ways. This tendency to feel too full for one thing on your plate but not another impacts all kinds of tasters, says Barbara Rolls, PhD, professor of nutritional sciences at Pennsylvania State University and author of The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet. “It’s called sensory-specific satiety,” she explains, “and it happens when you eat one type of food to the point where you don’t want any more, yet you can still be hungry for foods with other flavors, textures and smells.”

Sensory-specific satiety can actually be a valuable weight-management tool. In fact, it’s the basis behind one-note eating plans (like the grapefruit diet), which take the idea to the extreme. “People who limit their diets while trying to lose weight are more successful,” says Kristen Kizer, RD, a dietitian at Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas. “Our human tendency is to sample as much as possible, so if you have a whole buffet of options, you’re more likely to overeat.”

Read more: Filling Foods to Help Lose Weight

Of course, restricting yourself to a single food is unhealthy, not to mention boring. So try these ways to rejigger your taste buds.

Cut back on processed foods. They often contain hidden additives, like salt in breakfast cereal or sugar in some tomato sauces and salad dressings, says David Katz, MD, founding director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. You may not consciously notice these flavors, but your individual taste receptors do—and they keep you craving more and more, Dr. Katz explains. Read labels on prepared foods, and cook from scratch when you can.

Have one cheat food. Instead of keeping five types of treats in your house, choose one you really enjoy and stock up on just that. You’ll be less tempted to go overboard.

Read more: Cheat-Proof Your Diet

Eat the same shade. At least when it comes to splurge foods. Research shows that people may chow down more when offered candies in a combo of colors instead of ones that are all one hue. (At last—a reason to munch only on green M&M’s.)

Cook with a dominant flavor. Rather than making a dinner that has a variety of notes, Dr. Katz advises, stick to a one-pot meal with one herb, spice or prevailing taste (like a Greek lamb shank and polenta dish accented with oregano). “You’ll want to stop eating earlier than if you were jumping back and forth among three or four side dishes that taste very different.” Bottom line: When you eat too much of one flavor profile, you grow tired of it.

Be present. “It’s more difficult to feel full when you’re not focused on your food,” Rolls says. Tap your senses to savor your meals. That could mean lingering in the kitchen while dinner simmers on the stove or giving your lemon rosemary chicken a big whiff before you dig in. And during mealtime, Rolls adds, “eliminate television and email so that you can concentrate on smelling, tasting and chewing. Enjoy the experience!” Take pleasure in your food and you’ll just know when to stop.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

How Your Partner Can Help You Get Healthy

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When a partner achieves a health goal, you're inspired to do the same

If you want your healthy New Year’s resolutions to stick, get your partner to kickstart their health, too. According to a new study, men and women are more likely to make a healthy change if their partner also does it.

Researchers looked at data from 3,722 couples who were either married or living together and who were part of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. They found that when one partner made a healthy change—quit smoking, lost weight or exercised more, for example—their partner was more likely to make the same change.

Interestingly, when one partner was initially unhealthy but then became healthier, they had a strong influence on their less healthy partner. The researchers found that smokers or sedentary people whose partners got healthier were more likely to quit their bad habits. Overweight people were less likely to lose weight if their partner was a normal weight—unless their partner had once been overweight, too, and had worked to shed pounds while they were together. Having that history together was linked to a three times greater likelihood that the other partner would lose weight, too.

The researchers say the reason one healthy partner often influences their less healthy half is that the pair might make decisions to get healthy together. If partners are equally ready to make a change, prior data shows they are more likely to be successful than if one partner was more motivated. They may also be inspired by each other’s success and feel more inclined to reach a health goal that someone close to them already has.

The findings can be useful for public health interventions, researchers say. Losing weight with a coach or buddy can keep dieters on track, but the same strategy could be used to enhance other health-related programs, too.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

This Is the Scary Amount of Pizza Kids Are Really Eating

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Pizza is a ubiquitous part of the American diet, but a new study finds that it’s an even bigger contributor than we thought—so big, researchers say, that physicians should address pizza intake during doctors’ visits.

To figure out how much pizza kids and adolescents are eating, researchers looked at the diets of children ages 2 to 11 and teens aged 12 to 19 from 2003-2010. They found that pizza makes up about 20% of kids’ daily calories on days when they eat pizza—and despite the insistence of some politicians that pizza should be considered a vegetable for its ample tomato sauce, those calories aren’t coming from an onslaught of veggies.

Overall pizza consumption didn’t drop significantly throughout the study, and in 2009–2010, pizza was ranked as the second highest contributor to children’s solid fat intake from schools and fast-food restaurants. (Grain desserts, like cookies, donuts and pie, took the cake for the number-one solid fatty food category.)

Researchers found that many kids were getting their pizza in school cafeterias, though it may be a bit healthier than it used to be: the USDA’s nationwide nutrition standards for school lunch have improved the nutritional content of all lunch offerings, including pizza. But the researchers also note that a recent evaluation of the nutrients in pizza from two undisclosed top national chains showed a high increase in sodium for thin crust cheese pizzas between 2003 and 2010, so the nutritional standards may not always trickle down.

Compounding the problem, many fast food restaurants that sell regular, full-calorie pizza are often clustered near schools in low-income neighborhoods, the researchers say, so a child who gets hooked on pizza during school could get the heavier version on their own time.

Because of pizza’s popularity in lunchrooms across the country, more should be done to inform kids that it comes with a lot of empty nutrition, researchers say. Pizza should be targeted as a food that can contribute to obesity, and marketing targeted to kids should be more controlled, they write.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Should I Eat Red Meat?

Do our experts have a tender spot for loin?

Welcome to Should I Eat This?—our weekly poll of five experts who answer nutrition questions that gnaw at you.

 

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Illustration by Lon Tweeten for TIME

3/5 experts say yes.

You might be surprised to hear that red meat gets the green light from the majority of our experts. But before you start a “bacon” chant at your desk, you’ll want to hear their caveats. A license to freebase filet mignon this is not.

Red meat can be beef, veal, lamb and even pork—which tries to lump itself in with white meats like chicken, but since it comes from a mammal, most experts insist it’s red. Even within the family, though, red meats are not all equal. Processed meats like bacon, sausages, bologna are mostly terrible for you, and are distinct from simple slabs. “Studies find a strong association between processed meat and bad outcomes, but no such association for pure meat,” says David Katz, MD, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center.

Unadulterated lean red meat offer of high-quality protein, iron and a spectrum of B vitamins, says Penny M. Kris-Etherton, PhD, RD, professor of nutrition at Penn State University. That said, here in America, we’re in no danger of eating too little protein. “I think the key is moderation in lean beef intake,” Kris-Etherton says. Stick to dietary recommendations for lean protein: a couple ounces a day.

MORE: Ending the War On Fat

Other experts think meat currently has far too big a place in the diet and should be limited to 1 time per week or less, according to Julia Zumpano, an RD at Cleveland Clinic’s Heart & Vascular Institute. The best cuts are the leanest ones, like loin, tenderloin, sirloin, filet or flank, she says.

Got a beef with beef? If you don’t already eat it, there’s no reason to add it, most of the experts say. “Protein deficiency in the U.S. is all but unknown in people who aren’t overtly sick,” Katz says, so vegetarians do just fine without it. Many do more than fine. In fact, the longest-lived Americans are pescetarians, says Dan Buettner, an author and researcher who studies the diets of the oldest people in the world in his forthcoming book The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People. Interestingly, members of the longest-lived populations do tend to eat red meat, but very sparingly, only about five servings a month, Buettner found. “Red meat was a celebratory food, or it was something that was more of a condiment, not the main feature of a meal,” he says. When it shows up on the plates of the healthiest people in the world, it’s far less than a two-ounce hunk.

MORE: What Red Meat Does To Your Gut Bacteria—And Heart

That’s how dietitian Karen Ehrens encourages people to think about meat: a flavorful flourish rather than a slab at the center of the plate. Eating less is better for our health and for the environment, a huge concern for some of the experts. If you choose to eat red meat, eat the best red meat you can, Ehrens says, because what’s good for livestock seems to be good for us, too. “Evidence continues to emerge in that what cattle eat impact the make-up of their meat and milk,” she says. Indeed, meat from grass-fed cows has lower saturated fat and more heart-healthy omega-3s.

So if you’re carnivorous, chow down—in moderation.

Read next: Should I Eat Whole-Wheat Pasta?

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TIME Dieting

DASH Diet Named Best Diet of the Year

Diet eschews gimmicks for straightforward healthy eating

The well-balanced DASH Diet was named the best overall diet for the fifth straight year by U.S. News & World Report. The DASH Diet focuses on a healthy mixture of whole grains and vegetables and is more focused on improving nutrition and heart health than losing weight (through strict adherence should still help dieters shed some pounds). While a lot of gimmicky diets have come and gone, the rules of the DASH diet are pretty intuitive: eat from the healthy food groups, avoid red meat and sweets, and cut back on salt.

For dieters more speciifcally focused on weight loss, U.S. News & World Report selected Weight Watchers as the best diet. IT was also picked as the easiest diet to follow. Meanwhile, the DASH diet received accolades as the best diet for people with diabetes and the best diet for healthy eating.

[U.S. News & World Report]

TIME Exercise/Fitness

Fitbit Launches Two New Fitness Trackers

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Fitbit launches new tricked-out trackers with a watch and GPS

Fitbit officially launched the sale of two new fitness and activity trackers, Charge HR and Surge, on Tuesday. Both wrist trackers feature caller ID and sleep monitoring as well as visible stats and a watch on its display.

The company originally announced its new devices in October, but now they’re available for purchase, Fitbit said at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). “With Fitbit Charge HR and Fitbit Surge, features like heart rate tracking are made simpler by being continuous and automatic so the technology works no matter what you’re doing,” said James Park, CEO and cofounder of Fitbit, in a statement.

Fitbit Charge HR

Fitbit Charge HR costs $149.95 and uses continuous heart rate readings to provide wearers with day-long stats on their fitness. The Surge is $249.95 and takes tracking a step further with GPS, text message notifications and music control.

The fitness tracker market is crowded, and it’s estimated that 42 million wearable fitness and health devices shipped in 2014. That puts a lot of pressure on companies to come up with the latest and greatest technology to cram into a durable vehicle the size of a large bracelet. Early products were equivalent to glorified pedometers (which, by the way, you can buy for under $10). Now, they’re much fancier—though not necessarily much more accurate. A 2014 study from Iowa State University looked at the most popular trackers and found that they were an average of 10-15% off at calculating calorie burn from activity. The Fitbit series, however, was fairly close in accuracy to the kind scientists use in research.

The new Fitbit trackers can now be shipped everywhere in the U.S., and globally in the near future.

Read next: These Are the Most Ingenious Gadgets From CES 2015

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Nearly Half of Fast Food Has More Calories Than Ever

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Though fast food restaurants like to make us think they’re getting healthier, their menu’s nutrition hasn’t changed all that much in 18 years, found a pair of new studies published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

Researchers from Tufts University analyzed almost two decades’ worth of data from top fast-food restaurants in the U.S. Specifically, they looked at the nutritional profiles of French fries, cheeseburgers, grilled chicken sandwiches, and sugar-sweetened cola.

There’s not much good news, but there is a shred: portion sizes have stopped ballooning, and calories in 56% of the items dropped over the years. Trans fat went down in French fries, too, since many chains have shifted away from frying them in partially hydrogenated fat.

But French fries seemed to be the only product reformulated during this time, the researchers said, and sodium and saturated fat remain too high in all products. Roughly 44% of foods actually had more calories over the years, and 33% had more sodium. As recently as 2013, a cheeseburger, French fries and cola accounted for 80% of a person’s daily calories and 139% of their recommended sodium.

Notably, the foods from the restaurants—which the study didn’t name—varied significantly among one another in calories, sodium and saturated fat. “It is unlikely that consumers are aware of the differences among chain restaurants,” the study authors write. “However, the implications of these data are striking.”

If you must indulge a fast food craving, be sure to check out the nutrition facts first. Even in our foodie-focused climate, they likely haven’t improved since your first drive-thru cheeseburger.

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