Monday, 30 June 2008

Pictures of menu boards in New York

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has posted pictures of actual menu boards of certain chain restaurants in New York City that have the calories of their products posted.
Check them out by clicking the link below.

My friend and New York resident, James, tried to take a few pictures for me but was told by a Starbucks employee he wasn't allowed!!
His Subway picture is the one you see on this page.

Thanks for trying James!

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Grocery shopping tips & tools

Ouf! It's been a busy few days- sorry for the lack of blogs!

This one's a short one- but thought I'd give you a few fun facts and tools you can use the next time you go grocery shopping.

Comparing salt content of fresh, frozen and canned vegetables

1 cup canned peas: 453 mg sodium
1 cup frozen peas: 170mg sodium
1 cup fresh peas: 8mg sodium

When buying bread:

Choose one with ‘whole grain’ as the first ingredient and with more than 2-3grams of fibre per slice.

When buying cereal:

A better choice has at least 4 g fibre per 30 g serving.

A better choice has less than 1-3 g fat per serving listed on the box- some granola-type cereals can have up to 5 g per serving!

A better granola-type cereal will have fruit and nuts listed on the ingredient list before sugar and oil.

When buying pasta:

Choosing whole wheat pasta provides 2-4g fibre per 1 cup cooked pasta


1 cup cooked white rice= 1g fibre
1 cup brown rice= 3g fibre
1 cup wild rice= 4g fibre

Milk & Alternatives

Comparing fat in milk (MF= Milk Fat)

1 cup 3.25% MF= 2 tsp fat
1 cup 2% fat MF= 1 tsp fat
1 cup 1% fat or buttermilk= 0.5 tsp fat
1 cup 0.1% fat= 0 tsp fat

Meat & Alternatives

Comparing fat content in ground beef:

Regular: 30% fat = 22g fat/3oz
Lean: 17% fat= 12g fat/3oz
Extra lean: 10% fat= 7g fat/3oz


Sunday, 22 June 2008

Japan takes drastic measures to fight obesity

Japan is currently undertaking the world’s most ambitious anti-obesity campaign. A national law came into effect a couple of months ago that requires companies and local governments to measure the waistlines of their employees that are between the ages of 40 and 75. This in itself is a huge undertaking given that that represents 56 million waistlines.

Those that exceed the state-prescribed limits of 33.5 inches (85cm) for men and 35.4 inches (90cm) for women- as defined by the International Diabetes Federation- and have weight-related issues, will be told to lose weight. If they don’t succeed in 3 months, they will be given dietary guidelines. If unsuccessful after 6 months, they will have to have addition education.

These efforts have been put in place to curb the growth of metabolic syndrome in Japan, to reduce the overweight population by 10% in the next 4 years and by 25% in the next 7 years, and, of course, to cut health care costs.

Metabolic syndrome is a term used to describe a collection of risk factors for heart disease including abdominal obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. The term ‘metabo’ has become widely used in Japan and has become synonymous with ‘overweight’.

Companies must get 10% of those deemed metabo to lose weight by 2012 and 25% to lose weight by 2015. If these targets aren’t met, the government will impose financial penalties. And the penalty isn’t trivial. NEC, Japan’s largest maker of personal computers, could incur a penalty of up to $19 million. As a result, the company is taking action, measuring the waists of all employees over the age of 30 and sponsoring metabo education days for employees and their families.

Opponents to the new government crackdown claim the criteria is too strict, the results will result in overmedication and therefore increase healthcare costs.

For a while now, health professionals have been saying that waist circumference is a better predictor of long-term health than the scale. Fat around the waist is linked with an increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, as well as back pain, some cancers, breathing problems and even death.

Perhaps the Canadian and American governments should start a similar campaign? The waist circumference criteria for North Americans is less than 40 inches (102cm) for men and less than 35 inches (88cm) for women- higher than in Asian. American health surveys show that over the past forty years, the average waist size for men has grown from 35 inches to 39 inches; for women, from 30 inches to 37 inches.

39% of men and 60% of women have waist circumferences above target.

According to a 2002 study, people with 41-inch waists pay about $2,600 more per year in annual medical expenses than do those with 32-inch waists.

The National Institutes of Health recommends that men with waists measuring 37 inches or greater and women with waists larger than 31.5 inches modify their lifestyles to reduce their waists and resulting health risks.


Thursday, 19 June 2008

Why does spicy food make your nose run?

Chili peppers contain an active compound called capsaicin. Capsaicin is an irritant which produces a burning sensation in any issue that comes in contact with it. Capsaicin is also believed to stimulate the fibres of the nervous system that control the quantity and thickness of mucus secreted in the nasal passages. Therefore, it makes your nose run.

Capsaicin is not water soluble meaning that water and most liquids won't alleviate the burning sensation. Dairy products are the most effective form of relief since the casein found in these products acts to detach capsaicin from nerve receptors.

Heat in peppers is measured on the Scoville scale.
0-100 Scoville units includes most bell/sweet peppers
16 000 000 Scoville units is pure capsaicin.
According to the 2007 Guinness Book of World Records, the Bhut Jolokia chili pepper (aka Naga Jolokia) of India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, is the hottest chili pepper in the world.

In 2005, the New Mexico State University Chile Pepper Institute measured a Scoville rating for the Naga Jolokia pepper of 1 001 304- just a bit lower than standard US pepper spray (2 000 000)!

That'll get your nose running for a while!

Leyner M, Goldberg B. Why do men have nipples? NY: Three Rivers Press. 2005.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

The Industry's Food Guide

A lot can be said about this picture...
but I'm just going to post it for now.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Coffee won’t kill you!

Harvard School of Public Health researchers looked at the data collected from 84 214 women from the famous Nurses’ Health Study and 41 736 men from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study who were followed for 24 years and 18 years respectively. What they found was that those that regularly drank caffeinated coffee- up to 6 cups a day- did not have an increased risk of death or of cancer- after adjusting for age, smoking and other heart disease and cancer risk factors.

I guess that’s a good thing for coffee drinkers… Woohoo! Coffee won’t kill you!

Joking aside, it is a pretty important finding since previous research on the relationship between caffeine and death has been inconsistent.

What’s more, and what’s getting the news buzz, is that the scientists found a modest benefit to drinking coffee. Women that consumed 2-3 cups of caffeinated coffee a day had a 25% lower risk of heart disease-related death than those that didn’t drink any coffee. Those that drank 4-5 cups a day had a 34% lower risk. This effect was strongest in women- it was found to not be statistically significant in men.

What’s interesting is that those that drank decaffeinated coffee also had slightly lower death rates. As such, the benefit doesn’t seem to be related to the caffeine in coffee but perhaps to another compound.

The researchers caution that the possibility of coffee having a health benefit needs to be further investigated. Scientists also warn that caffeine affects everybody individually and can cause various side effects for certain people, including increased heart rate, heart palpitations, anxiety, insomnia etc. Caffeine has also been linked to an increased risk of miscarriages therefore if you’re a women that can become pregnant, you want to limit your caffeine intake to 300mg a day.

The participants in the study were all healthy so the effect of coffee can be different if you have a chronic illness. Coffee consumption was also self reported by the participants only ever 2-4 years, thus introducing possible measurement errors.

Bottom line: Don't start increasing your coffee intake to try to live longer just yet.

American College of Physicians (2008, June 16). Drinking Large Amounts Of Coffee May Actually Extend One's Lifespan, Study Suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 16, 2008, from­ /releases/2008/06/080616170839.htm

Friday, 13 June 2008

"Guess the Carbs" game...answers!

Thanks to those of you who played.. namely "My Favourite Nurse" Mona and loyal reader, Jme!
As a result,
My Favourite Nurse wins in the carb category and Jme wins in the calories category! Congratulations!!

Before I divulge the number of carbohydrates (and calories), some explanation is necessary to put things in perspective (for those of you who are not diabetes educators).

When we eat, the food gets broken down into various simpler substances, one of them being sugar. In response, our pancreas secretes a hormone called insulin. Insulin is often compared to a key that opens the door to our many many cells. Once the cell door is open, the sugar, that's been floating around in our blood, goes into the cells. Our cells, and in turn, our bodies, need sugar to function.

People that have Diabetes type 2 (the one that usually, but not always, occurs later in life) either have a pancreas that doesn't produce enough insulin or that insulin-or key- can't fit into the cell door's keyhole (this is called 'insulin resistance'). As a result, that sugar stays floating around in the blood and blood sugar rises.

People with Type 1 diabetes (usually, but not always, diagnosed at a younger age) have a pancreas that produces no insulin at all. As a result, they need to take insulin by injection.

We get 3 main nutrients from our food- carbohydrates, protein and fat. Carbohydrate is the main one that breaks down into sugar in the body. As a result, people with diabetes have to monitor how many grams of carbs they eat.

We'll focus on diabetes type 2 since people with type 1 often adjust their insuling dose to how many grams of carbs they eat.

The general guideline for people with type 2 diabetes, and this is in no way a recommendation, is to aim for 45-60 grams of carbs per meal. This is usually sufficient to meet the carbohydrate needs of most people but not too much that they risk having high blood sugar.

Of course, everyone is different and this amount varies with age, gender, activity level and also on how much insulin the pancreas is producing. That's why it's important to seek the advice of a registered dietitian when you have type 2 diabetes.

Ok- so now you know 45-60g per meal is a general guideline.
Time for the answers!

*Note that the total carbs I've included are net carbs. This means that I've substracted the fibre from the total carbohydrates (since fibre is not broken down to sugar in the body).

Tim Hortons

Wheat n' honey bagel: 300 calories , 56 g net carbs.
Chocolate chip muffin: 430 calories, 67 g net carbs.
Low fat cranberry muffin: 290 calories, 60g net carbs.
Chocolate glazed donut: 260 calories, 37 g net carbs.


Grande cafe mocha, no whip: 290 calories, 38g net carbs.
Grande peppermint white chocolate mocha, no whip: 490 calories, 77g net carbs.
White chocolate bluebery scone: 470 calories, 53 g net carbs.


Large fries: 560 calories, 68g net carbs
Large Coke: 320 calories, 82g net carbs
10 chicken McNuggets with BBQ sauce: 565 calories, 42g net carbs
Hot fudge sundae: 330 calories, 55g net carbs.

How'd you do?!

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

"Guess the carbs" game!

This is a game for diabetes educators (and anybody else who has some extra time on their hands)!
Try to guess how many net carbohydrates are in the following popular fast food items- no cheating!
The one who can guess most accurately will win… nothing. But will have the satisfaction of knowing that they know their carb content!

Answers will be posted Friday.

*Bonus points if you can guess how many calories each food item has!

Tim Hortons
Wheat n’ Honey bagel
Chocolate chip muffin
Low fat cranberry muffin
Chocolate glazed donut

Grande café mocha, no whip
Grande peppermint white chocolate mocha, no whip
White chocolate blueberry scone

Large fries
Large Coke
10 chicken McNuggets with BBQ sauce
Hot fudge sundae

Beef riots in South Korea

Large rallies with tens of thousands of demonstrators, the mobilization of 21 000 riot officers, candlelight vigils and the offer of resignation from the Prime Minister and the President’s entire cabinet, all because of beef?!
That’s what’s happening right now in South Korea.

Korea was once the third largest importer of US beef but in 2003 it imposed a ban on American beef as a result of mad cow disease being detected in American Cattle.

However, in April, President Lee cut a deal with Washington to lift the ban on importing US beef, prompting an uproar from the population that fears for their health. Sources do point to the fact that these demonstrations are also about President’s Lee’s leadership and policies. According to Tami Overby, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Seoul, “beef is a lightning rod for everyone who has a beef with President Lee".

So far, shipment of US beef into Korea has been suspended until a deal can be signed preventing cattle of over 30 months old from entering the country, in hopes of assuaging the population’s food safety fears. Both Seoul and Washington continue to insist U.S. beef is safe, but protesters say they can't trust the President, and there seems to be no end in sight to the demonstrations.


Sunday, 8 June 2008

Calories provided by restaurants can be deceiving

Remember that Seinfeld episode when Kramer introduces Jerry and Elaine to delicious non-fat frozen yogourt that they soon start indulging in? After a few days they both start noticing that they’re gaining weight and, after having the yogourt sample analyzed, discover that it was in fact not fat-free as advertised! Well, this same plot is playing out in real life, as discovered by ABC2 news in Baltimore.

ABC2 news decided to verify the accuracy of the advertised calorie and fat content of low fat/low calorie menu items at the following popular American restaurants: Applebee’s, The Cheesecake Factory, Taco Bell, Romano’s Macaroni Grill, Chili’s and On the Border Mexican Grill. Selected food items were sent to labs for analysis.

Click below for the full results.

If we focus only on calories, there are quite a few discrepancies. Of the 23 items analyzed and that had a calorie content advertised by the restaurant, 11, or 48%, had 50 or more calories than was advertised. 5 of these had more than 100 calories than advertised and 1 had more than 500 calories!

On the flipside, 4 menu items had less calories than advertised- In fact, 3 of them had around 200 calories less.

The 3 biggest offenders on the plus side were:

Macaroni Grill’s- Pollo Magro or “Skinny Chicken”. Macaroni Grill listed this item as having 500 calories but the lab calculated a whopping 522 more calories: 1022 calories. It should be noted, however, that the bread and butter that was served with this meal was included in the lab analysis whereas it was probably not included in the calories listed by the restaurant.

Chili’s Guiltless Salmon- Listed by the restaurant as having 480 calories but analyzed as having 664 calories; 184 calories more.

Taco Bell’s Fresco Grilled Steak Soft Taco- Listed as having 160 calories by the restaurant but really having 137 more calories at 297 calories, according to the lab analysis.

The same company owns Chili’s, Macaroni Grill and On the Border and they released a statement saying: “We apologize to our valued guests. As such, we will be working to reinforce these menu standards.”

Applebee’s- that partners with Weight Watchers, Taco Bell and The Cheesecake Factory stick by the accuracy of their menus. A Taco Bell representative pointed out that Federal Guidelines allow them to be 20% off in their numbers.

Having calories of the menu items available to restaurant patrons is great but this report points out the necessity of having standards to ensure validity of the analyses.

In the meantime, use the calories listed as a guide but use your judgment as well.


Thursday, 5 June 2008

KFC goes vegan?

Kentucky Fried Chicken Canada has announced that they will introduce faux-chicken onto their menu in 461 of their stores.

Of course, deep-fried battered tofu in a bucket is not necessarily a healthy choice but it's an interesting move on the part of the company. One that's making PETA happy. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has decided to call off their 5 year battle with the company as a result of this decision and due to the fact that KFC Canada has agreed to purchase their chickens from slaughterhouses that gas their chickens- supposedly the least cruel killing method.

So far, KFC worldwide's parent company is refusing to make similar changes.

I probably won't be trying out their new fake chicken but it does offer more choice for vegetarians and for people thinking about trying it out. Let me know if you get a chance to try it once it comes out!

Thanks for sending me this story James!


How to become as fat as a Sumo wrestler

Sumo wrestling is a way of life and requires a lifetime dedication. It can take up to 10 years to become a professional. Teenage boys join schools to learn the basics of Sumo and Sumo wrestling scouts choose the athletic ones with stocky builds. They won't choose the obese boys because that indicates a lack of discipline.

Sumo wrestlers are called rikishi.

A respectable rikishi weighs at least 200kg (440lbs) and up to 280 kg (616 lbs). There is no weight division so basically, the bigger you are, the better.

Steps to becoming as fat as a Sumo wrestler

Skip breakfast. Rikishis wake up at 4-5 am and will only have their first meal at midday. Not only does this slow down their metabolism encouraging fat storage, but they’re starving at this point and can eat 5-10 times the amount an average person will eat. Rikishis eat only 2 very large meals a day.

Eat very large amounts of food. One of the heaviest rikishis in history, at 285kg, could eat 10 bowls of stew*, 8 bowls of rice, 130 pieces sushi and 25 portions of barbecued beef at one sitting. Rikishis eats, on average, 10 000 calories a day.

*The traditional meal is a stew called chanko-nabe and is pictured above. It contains meat (fish, seafood, chicken, pork or beef) and is served with rice and vegetables.

Drink a lot of alcohol. Sumo wrestlers drink a lot of beer which contains a lot of calories and leads to weight gain.

Sleep after you eat. Sumo wrestlers sleep for 3-4 hours following their large meal. Perfect way to avoid burning off those calories.

If you do decide to follow these steps, be aware that this lifestyle is not without its risks. The average life expectancy of a rikishi is 65 years old, 10 years below that of the average Japanese male. Their risk of type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, blood pressure, heart attacks and gout is much higher than the average population's. Their heavy weight is a strain on the joints, increasing their risk of arthritis. Due to their high alcohol intake, they are more prone to liver problems.


Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Get rid of your multivitamin and eat real food!

This always happens. I want to blog about something, I take too much time and, all of a sudden, my topic is in the news! This time, the topic is vitamin and mineral supplementation. It’s the cover story in this month’s Nutrition Action and Maclean’s magazine.

I’ve never been a fan of vitamin and mineral supplementation, despite the fact that nutrition experts like Dr. Walter Willett recommend a multivitamin a day for “health insurance”, as do many doctors. Well, it makes me happy that the use of a daily multivitamin is being questioned- finally!

According to Stats Canada, nearly half of Canadian adults have taken a multivitamin in the last month (as did more than one in three kids). The supplement industry is huge and works hard to convince you your diet is deficient.

According to the Centre for Science in the Public Interest, there is very, very little evidence that there is any benefit to taking a multivitamin. However, the evidence that there is harm to taking one is not consistent. A handful of studies have found that people taking a multivitamin have a slightly higher risk of cancer and other “negative human consequences”.

Food is abundant in North America and most of us get more than enough vitamins and minerals in our diet, with no risk of overdosing on them. As a result, if you’re healthy and eat a variety of foods, there’s no need to supplement your diet. In fact, you might be better off!

If you insist on taking a multivitamin, here are some of the nutrients you need to be aware of:

Folic acid: High intakes- 1000 mcg (1mg) or more- of folic acid has recently been linked to increased risk of colon and breast cancer. The daily recommended intake is 400 mcg. Women in their childbearing years should continue to take a multivitamin that contains 400 mcg folic acid daily to reduce the risk of birth defects. For men and post-menopausal women that insist on taking a multivitamin, choose one with less than 400 mcg folic acid. If your multivitamin has 400 mcg folic acid, don’t take it every day.

Selenium: The daily recommended intake of selenium is 55mcg/day. Some studies have shown that more than 200mcg selenium a day may increase the risk of skin cancer and diabetes. Choose a supplement with less than 100mcg.

Vitamin C: The daily recommendation for Vitamin C is 75mg for a woman and 90mg for a man (btw, 1 cup orange juice contains 128mg). 250-500mg saturates the body’s tissues so more than that is excreted. However, high doses of 1000mg or more can cause diarrhea, interfere with iron metabolism and contribute to kidney stones.

Vitamin A: The recommendation is 3000 IU a day. Too much retinol (vitamin A palmitate or acetate) can increase your risk of hip fractures, liver problems and birth defects. If you take a supplement, it shouldn’t contain more than 4000 IU retinol or more than 6000 IU beta-carotene.

Vitamin D: Vitamin D helps with the absorption of calcium and recent research has shown that it can help reduce the risk of cancer and diabetes. The current recommendation is 200IU per day but 400IU for people over the age of 50 and 600 IU for people over the age of 70. However, many experts recommend an intake of 1000IU a day for everyone (including the amount that comes from the sun and from food- fish and added in margarine, milk and cereal). Most multivitamins contain 400IU.

Vitamin E: 33IU/day is recommended daily. Research has shown that more than 400IU of vitamin E increased the risk of death. As a result, aim for less than 100IU a day.

Calcium: The recommendation is 1000mg a day for men and women below the age of 50 and 1200mg/day for women above 50. Men who consume more than 1500mg a day are at greater risk for prostate cancer so your multivitamin should contain less than 200mg.


Liebman B, Schardt D, Cohen D et al. Multi Complex: Picking a multivitamin gets tricky. Nutrition Action Health Letter. Centre for Science in the Public Interest, June 2008.
Gulli C. How vitamins can be hazardous to your health. Maclean's, Apr 21 2008.
Nestle M. What to eat. NY: North Point Press. 2006

Monday, 2 June 2008

Big business to blame for bulging bellies

A few blogs have recently featured the large Baskin-Robbins’ Heath Shake due to it’s ridiculous amount of calories: 2310 calories! This is equivalent to 11 Dunkin Donuts’ jelly filled donuts or 7.5 McDonald’s cheeseburgers or 25 cups Coke! It's more than the total number of calories most of us should be getting over a whole day!!

It’s pretty disgusting but Marion Nestle, Professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at NYU, introduces an interesting perspective. She points out that corporate execs aren’t sitting around a table trying to find ways to make people fat. Instead, they’re trying to sell food in an “overabundant marketplace” and to simply get sales. According to her, it’s this overabundance of food (and aggressive marketing) that can be blamed for the obesity crisis.

Currently, the US food supply provides an average of 3900 calories per capita for every man, woman and child in the US- that’s more than 2 times the average need for the population. In 1980, the availability was 3300- this 600 calorie increase can be linked to the rising obesity rates. There are numerous “eat more” strategies that help corporations sell off more food:

Increasing portion sizes: the largest movie theatre cups now holds 64 oz soda- that’s ~800 calories worth of soda (without ice)! Portion sizes have increased 2-5 times since the early 80s.

Variety: food marketers introduce 15 000-20 000 new food products every year into a food system that already has more than 300 000 food products! For example, in 1990, there were 6 different types of Oreo cookies- there are now 27 different types!

Low prices: Why is it that at McDonald’s you can buy 5 hamburgers for the price of one salad? Government subsidies support the production of certain foods like partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and corn. Foods that have these subsidized ingredients cost less per calories. Food cost in the US is the lowest in the world- 10% of income. The true food cost is actually paid through taxes rather than at the supermarket.

It’s all just business- the obesity epidemic is just an unfortunate outcome.


Remillard G, ed. Understanding and overcoming obesity, the need for action. Health Decision Series. Nestle M. Health, Diet, and the Politics of Dietary Guidelines: Commentary. Montreal: Decision Media. 2006.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Please vote for me!

My site was nominated for Best Health Blog!

I know it seems a bit conceited but I've nominated myself for Best Health blog!

Of course, it doesn't mean anything if nobody votes... so, if you like reading my blog, please please vote for me!

You have to sign in before voting (which is a bit annoying, I know).

Simply go to
and sign in to vote.

Thanks in advance!