Diet & Health Care Reform

  • posted by Marci Evans
  • Wednesday, March 18, 2009
While the excitement surrounding the election of our 44th President of the United States is slowly dying down, the buzz on politics certainly hasn't diminished in my neck of the woods.  While the economy is certainly the most talked about topic, I've been happy to hear both President Obama and his wife address issues of health, diet, and nutrition.  So, I was intrigued to read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle this morning, which addresses the issue of politics, food, and what our new President can do to support a healthcare policy that helps to reduce the incidence of chronic disease.

The author of the article, T. Colin Campbell, is the author of a book "The China Study."  If you are at all interested in the link beween diet and the development of "Western Diseases" (think cardiovascular disease and Type II diabetes), take a look at his website and consider reading the book.  His findings are quite significant. 

In this article, Dr. Campbell suggests 3 health care improvement strategies to President Obama:
1. Change the way government develops its dietary guidelines.  Currently, these guidlines are heavily influenced by large money-making industries such as sugar, dairy, and the meat industry.  He suggests a clear rule: "no scientist with financial ties to the food and drug industries should chair - or choose the members of - panels that set dietary guidelines."
 2. President Obama should establish a new institute at the National Institutes of Health dedicated exclusively to exploring the link between diet, health and disease. Today, there are 27 institutes and centers at the National Institutes of Health, but none devoted to nutrition, despite the great public interest in the subject.
3. Congress should require that medical schools - as a condition of receiving federal grants - offer residency programs on dietary approaches to preventing and treating disease.

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.  Do you think President Obama has the determination and ability to promote policies that are not influenced by powerful lobbyists?  Would these changes improve the delivery of health care services?  What would the lasting impact be on the health of our citizens?

The Feeding Relationship: Parents & Children

  • posted by Marci Evans
  • Sunday, March 15, 2009
I just got back from serving on a health panel at my church here in Cambridge.  I thoroughly enjoyed talking about my topic of choice (food and nutrition) for two hours.  While there was a wide variety of questions that I addressed, a common theme focused on the feeding relationship between parents and children.  While my practice focuses primarily on adult nutrition, I have been amazed to see how our grown-up feelings, attitudes, and behaviors about food stem from our interactions with food as children.

Nearly all parents care deeply about the heatlh and well-being of their kids.  But as most parents have experienced, dinner time can turn into a source of anxiety and frustration as you try to feed your family well.  Even the most well-intentioned parent can find themselves engaging in a power struggle, battling over broccoli and cookies. 

Ellyn Satter is a Registered Dietitian specializing in teaching people how to feed a healthy family.  I highly recommend visiting her website.  And if this topic interests you, check out her book "How to Get Your Kid to Eat...But Not Too Much."  She provides a wealth of knowledge and gives you the tools you need to raise a healthy family....without the dinner time battles.

Part III: Finding the time

  • posted by Marci Evans
  • Saturday, March 14, 2009

When I talk to people about their biggest barriers to grocery shopping and eating well there is one response that rings loudest and clearest- TIME! I empathize. I even love to grocery shop and cook, and find it difficult. But I promise, it is possible to eat well, even if you are crunched for time. Here are a few suggestions on how to do it.

At the grocery store:
1. Stick to your list, stick to your list, stick to your list
2. Avoid getting lost in the sea of marketing and advertising. Remember, it’s a ploy to get you to buy their product.
3. Become familiar with the layout of your store
4. Compare products for nutritional quality by looking at ingredient lists
5. Compare products for price using the cost/unit listed near the price.

Consider home delivery
I confess, life the past few months has been unbelievably busy. I no longer have time to peruse the aisles of my favorite grocery store. So online grocery shopping has saved us eating out (which always costs more). I sit down in front of my computer with my grocery list, log on to Peapod’s website, and in 20 minutes I’m done! And now that I don’t have the visual temptation of other items, I notice that my impulse buying has decreased. I’m usually very pleased with the quality of the products they deliver and love the fact that I didn’t have to trudge through the snow to get it!

We also have a bin of organic produce delivered to our door every other week from Boston Organics. Their deliveries include delicious, often local produce and is an absolute treat. Check out their website, especially if you are in the Boston/Cambridge area. They provide recipes and tips for produce storage and preparation.

What resources do you have access to? Get creative and start brainstorming ways to make grocery shopping and meal planning work for you.

Part II: What to Buy (Nutrition)

  • posted by Marci Evans
  • Saturday, March 07, 2009

Last week I introduced the topic of grocery shopping. I covered the first part (preparation) in a five-part series. Today I’d to talk a little bit about nutrition. Nutrition is a very controversial topic. Why? Because the science behind it is complicated!

Case in point: fat. You’ve likely heard a litany of recommendations on fat intake; eat a low fat diet for heart health, decrease your saturated fat, avoid trans fat like the plague, increase your monounsaturated fats, decrease belly fat by eating more polyunsaturated fats, and on and on and on we go.

While I’m not about to go into the science of fat intake, you should know that food companies use the latest and greatest scientific breakthroughs to sell you a product. A CocoaVia dark chocolate bar can improve your heart health, you can increase your fiber intake by adding Splenda to your tea () , and improve your digestion by eating Activia yogurt with a special probiotic blend. Do not be fooled!

The best nutrition advice I can give it to you is this: ignore the snazzy health claims plastered all of your processed food boxes. These “functional foods” are often injected with one element or another to give the allure of good nutrition but are often a mix of synthetic substitutes which are a poor second place for the real deal. Instead, start buying REAL FOOD. How, might you ask?

Here are a couple of examples of what I mean:
Whole grain cereal with fresh blueberries rather than a Blueberry Nutri-grain bar
Whole grain cracker with peanut butter rather than the bright orange peanut butter crackers in the cellophane packaging
Whole wheat pasta mixed with frozen veggies and marinara sauce rather than a Lean Cuisine

So here’s a challenge: take a look at the food you eat for convenience sake and see if you can turn it into a more nutritious, less processed option. I’m eager to see your results.

Harvard Says Good-Bye to Calorie Counting

  • posted by Marci Evans
  • Saturday, March 07, 2009

As a registered dietitian and nutrition therapist who treats eating disorders in Cambridge, I was intrigued by a recent article appearing on the CNN website. Harvard University Dining Services has decided to remove detailed nutrition information cards from their dining halls after parents and students raised concerns about their triggering effect for students susceptible to or struggling with an eating disorder. While the nutrition information can still be found online and at dining hall kiosks, a new emphasis will focus on the benefits of certain foods, rather than their caloric breakdown.

My response? Go Harvard! From my professional experience calorie counting and dieting lead to disordered eating patterns, an unhealthy pre-occupation with food, lowered levels of self-esteem, and a frustrated relationship with food. Rarely does it lead to lasting weight loss. While calorie counting may give you a reality check (particularly with restaurant foods), learning to follow intuitive eating signals is far more effective in the long run. So the next time you reach for a snack, ask yourself “am I actually hungry?”