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Portion Distortion: How Food Labels May Be Derailing Your Diet

Jul 30, 2013 - 18 comments

food labels










food portions


eat small portions

Portion control is a key step to maintaining a healthy weight. But if you’re like the majority of working Americans, a busy schedule often means grabbing a fast, not-so-healthy lunch on the go — and many of these grab-and-go options carry multiple servings in a single package. If you’re not careful, you may eat two or three servings in one sitting without realizing it.

This is because our idea of proper portion sizes is often distorted by labels, according to 2013 study from Cornell University. To measure the impact labels have on our eating habits, researchers served two different portion sizes of spaghetti to participants — one cup (small) or two cups (large). For some, the small portion was labeled “half-size” and the large portion was labeled “regular,” giving participants the impression that the larger portion was the normal size. For the others, the same portions were labeled "regular" for the small and "double-size” for the large, leading participants to believe that the smaller portion was the norm.

Despite actual portion sizes, participants ate up to 10 times more when the larger portion was labeled "regular" than when it was labeled "double-size.” Through a similar experiment, the same researchers also determined that people are willing to pay more for food with a label that makes the portion sound larger than it actually is — proof that misguided labels not only put a damper on our healthy eating goals, but they put a dent in our wallets as well.

Even though portion sizes are growing — especially with high-calorie foods like French fries or soft drinks — your waistline doesn’t have to. Take control over the amount of food you eat. Here are a few tips to help you manage your portions:

• Put it in a doggy bag: When eating out, split your meal with a friend or ask the waiter to put half of your meal in a       to-go box as soon as your food arrives.  
• Eat slowly: If you tend to eat quickly, your brain may not get the message that it’s full until it’s too late. Savor your food, eat slowly and pay closer attention to feelings of fullness.
• Stash your snacks: When you’re craving a snack, avoid mindless munching by putting a single serving in a separate container or bowl, rather than eating straight out of the package.
• Snack smart: Eat a light (healthy) snack, like almonds or carrot sticks, in between meals to help you avoid overeating or choosing a less healthy option at mealtime.
• Measure it out: When there is no label to help guide you, use your hand or another everyday object as a    measuring   tool to help you determine proper serving sizes. For example, one serving of meat or poultry is about the size of your hand or a deck of cards, and half a cup of veggies is about the same size as half a baseball.
• Use smaller plates: Using a smaller plate gives the illusion of more food, helping you eat less.

Keep your healthy eating goals on track with our free calorie counter and weight loss app, My Diet Diary! Download it today:

How do you control your food portions? Please share your advice and comments!

Mediterranean Diet May Help You Live Longer

Jul 15, 2013 - 1 comments

mediterranean diet








Heart Disease


Healthy Eating

Lately, the Mediterranean diet — which incorporates heart-healthy foods typically used in Mediterranean-style cooking — is getting all the attention. Recent studies have shown that this diet can boost brainpower, reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke, and improve your overall quality of life.

The Mediterranean diet (originated in Crete, Greece’s largest island) emphasizes eating primarily plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes; using heart-healthy olive oil instead of butter and herbs instead of salt; consuming more fish than red meat; and limiting portions of poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt. The diet also recognizes the importance of getting regular exercise, and enjoying meals (and the occasional glass of red wine) with family and friends.

Antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, which make up a large portion of this diet, protect your cells against the effects of free radicals — molecules produced when your body breaks down food, or is exposed to elements in the environment, like tobacco smoke or radiation. Foods high in antioxidants, such as blueberries and cooked artichokes, have been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s disease and memory loss.

In a study published in May 2013 and conducted by the University of Navarra in Spain, researchers observed 522 participants, between the ages of 55 and 80, with conditions that put them at high risk for cardiovascular disease. Instead of placing these participants on the low-fat diet normally recommended to prevent heart attack and stroke, they were asked to follow a Mediterranean-style diet with either added olive oil or mixed nuts. After an average of more than six years, the participants were tested for signs of cognitive decline using a Mini Mental State Exam and a clock drawing test. Average scores for both tests were significantly higher for participants following either of the Mediterranean diets than those following the low-fat diet.

Similarly, a study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that a Mediterranean diet might also help preserve memory and cognitive ability. In this case, researchers found that those who followed a Mediterranean diet were 19 percent less likely to develop problems with their thinking and memory skills. However, the Mediterranean diet was not associated with a lower risk of thinking and memory problems in people with diabetes.

Whole grains, which contain very few unhealthy trans fats, also make up a large portion of the Mediterranean diet. Some doctors consider trans fats to be the worst type of fat because it raises your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and lowers your “good” (HDL) cholesterol, increasing your risk of heart disease. The Mediterranean diet does however, include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — found in olive oil, nuts and some types of fish — which have been shown to improve blood cholesterol levels, decrease heart disease and lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. According to a recent study led by the University of Barcelona, the Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or tree nuts reduces the risk of heart attack, stroke and cardiovascular death by 30 percent.

Still not convinced of all the benefits the Mediterranean diet can bring? Thanks to its healthy servings of fish, leafy greens and nuts, each meal is also packed with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. A healthy balance of both of these vitamins has been shown to be essential to good health and, due to its anti-inflammatory properties, omega 3’s in particular may help women manage symptoms of menopause caused by inflammation, such as hot flashes, mood swings and osteoporosis.

Do you follow the Mediterranean diet? What’s your favorite Mediterranean dish? Please share your comments!

News: HPV Vaccine Reduces Infection Among Teen Girls

Jun 27, 2013 - 3 comments







high-risk HPV


vaccine hpv


hpv transmission

Since the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine was first introduced in 2006 as part of a nationwide public health campaign targeted at teenage girls, the prevalence of vaccine-type HPV infection among girls ages 14 to 19 has decreased 56 percent, according to a new study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This sharp drop in infection rates is being heralded as proof of the vaccine’s efficacy, and a big step in reducing rates of cervical cancer, which is typically caused by HPV.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. — about 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV, and about 14 million people become newly infected each year, according to the CDC. While there are more than 40 types of HPV that can infect the genital areas, mouth and throat, the HPV vaccine specifically protects against HPV types 16 and 18 — the two types that cause most HPV-related cancers. In the U.S., about 19,000 HPV-caused cancers occur in women and about 8,000 HPV-caused cancers occur in men each year. Cervical cancer is the most common cancer caused by HPV among women and oropharyngeal cancers, or throat cancers, are the most common among men.

According to researchers, this study shows that the HPV vaccine is effective in preventing the spread of vaccine-type HPV and should encourage an increase in future vaccine rates. Currently, only one third of girls ages 13 to 17 in the U.S. have been vaccinated. That rate is very low compared to other countries, such as Demark, Britain and Rwanda, where vaccination rates are at 80 percent or higher.

“Our low vaccination rates represent 50,000 preventable tragedies — 50,000 girls alive today will develop cervical cancer over their lifetime that would have been prevented if we reach 80 percent vaccination rates,” CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., said in a press release. “For every year we delay in doing so, another 4,400 girls will develop cervical cancer in their lifetimes.”

Other cancers caused by HPV include vaginal, vulvar, penile and anal cancers. Certain types of HPV can also cause warts in the genital area or the throat. Many of these cancers and conditions can be prevented with the HPV vaccine. There are two types of HPV vaccines available: Gardasil and Cervarix. While both vaccines protect against diseases caused by HPV types 16 and 18, only Gardasil has been shown to protect against HPV types 6 and 11, which can cause genital warts in both females and males. Gardasil also protects against certain precancers and is the only HPV vaccine tested and licensed for use in males. Both vaccines require three doses within a recommended six-month period.

Based on the results of this study, health experts recommend routine HPV vaccination for boys and girls ages 11 to 12. Older teenagers and young adults are also encouraged to get the HPV vaccine. While HPV doesn’t always lead to health problems, it’s important that women get regular screening tests to detect any early signs of cervical cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, regular dental checkups, in which the doctor examines the entire mouth, can help detect the early signs of oropharyngeal cancer in men. Frequency of testing for both men and women depend on age and health history, so talk to your doctor about the best HPV-prevention plan for you.  

(Read more about the HPV vaccine here:

Did you get your HPV vaccine? How important do you think it is? Please share your comments!

News: Flu During Pregnancy May Increase Child’s Risk of Bipolar Disorder

Jun 19, 2013 - 0 comments





Bipolar Disorder


Mental Health

As if mothers-to-be don’t have enough to be cautious about, new research shows that catching the flu during pregnancy may increase a child’s risk of developing bipolar disorder later in life, according to a study published online in early May in JAMA Psychiatry.

Bipolar disorder, or manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood that range from the lows of depression to the highs of mania. This can affect energy, activity levels and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. While previous studies have revealed a link between flu infection and schizophrenia, this is the first to reveal a connection between maternal flu and bipolar disorder.

This doesn’t mean pregnant women should become overly paranoid about getting sick, said Elaine Brown, MD, a Montana-based ob/gyn and expert in MedHelp’s pregnancy, women’s health, birth control and fertility/infertility forums. But it’s a good idea to get the flu vaccine and avoid high-risk situations, such as the emergency room during flu season. “I believe the benefits of the vaccine seem to out weigh the risks,” she said.

In this particular study, researchers recruited more than 19,000 pregnant women between 1959 and 1966, and collected data on influenza infection. From 1981 to 2010, the team tracked cases of bipolar disorder in these women’s children. While researchers admitted the sample size was not very large, they discovered 92 cases in which offspring developed bipolar disorder.

Authors of the study concluded that women who are exposed to the flu during pregnancy have four times the risk of their child developing bipolar disorder. According to researchers, this risk is slightly higher during the second or third trimesters. Flu exposure was also linked to a nearly sixfold increase in a sub-type of bipolar disorder described in the study as having psychotic features.

Brown is skeptical about the connection between flu and bipolar disorder, because both are very common. However, she thinks the link between the subtype of bipolar disorder with psychotic features and flu in pregnancy is noteworthy, because it is less common and the diagnosis is based on objective rather than subjective criteria. Overall, Brown said more research is needed on the subject.

Using objective rather than subjective methods for visualizing how the brain functions might make diagnosing mental illness easier in the future, she said. “It will be easier to postulate how a virus, such as the flu virus might affect the development of the fetal brain and result in bipolar disorder,” she said. “This will make studies such as this one easier to believe or disbelieve.”

Currently there is no sure way to prevent bipolar disorder, but getting the flu shot might be a way to prevent your child from developing this illness later in life. Other risk factors for bipolar disorder include: having a blood relative with the disorder, periods of high stress, drug or alcohol abuse or major life changes.

How important do you think it is for mothers to get the flu vaccine? Please share your comments!