Diet and Health Tips That Make Sense

by Charles Platkin, PhD

There’s a steady supply of new research in the areas of , fitness and nutrition, and I frequently post these to the Diet Detective Facebook page ( Here are a few of the latest findings that will certainly help you to lose weight and stay fit.

1) More Reasons to Eat Whole Grains

According to researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Researcher Center on Aging at Tufts University, people who consume several servings of whole grains per day while limiting daily intake of refined grains appear to have less visceral adipose tissue, a type of fat tissue around the stomach area that is thought to play a key role in triggering cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

2) Eating Out? Use Cash. And When Eating at Healthy Restaurants, Use Caution.

When buying groceries, people are more likely to purchase unhealthy foods when using a credit or debit card than when using cash. According to research reported in the Journal of Consumer Research there is a correlation between unhealthiness and impulsiveness with relation to food items: Unhealthy food items tend to elicit impulsive responses. However, cash payments are psychologically more painful than card payments, and this pain of payment can curb the impulsive decision to buy unhealthy food items. The researchers conducted an analysis of actual shopping behavior in 1,000 households over a period of six months and found that their shopping carts had a larger proportion of food items rated impulsive and unhealthy when the shoppers used credit or debit cards rather than cash.

Another study of food consumed outside the home showed that when people were eating in restaurants they thought were healthy their estimates of the number of calories they’d consumed were 44 percent lower than what they’d actually eaten. According to authors Pierre Chandon of INSEAD and Brian Wansink of Cornell University, the problem was that these people tended to reward themselves for their “healthy” choice of restaurant by eating more chips, fries and cookies. They suggest that if you’re eating at a supposed healthy restaurant you should estimate the calories in the meal and then double that number to arrive at a more accurate count.

Even among those who should have more knowledge about food values, errors of judgment are not uncommon. For example, in one study, registered dietitians underestimated their caloric consumption by 16 percent. Another study testing the ability of registered dietitians to estimate calories found underestimates of 200 to 600 calories. Other health professionals, including physicians and nurses, are not significantly better at making these estimates. In one study, 70 percent of the participants incorrectly estimated patients’ calorie needs by approximately 13 percent. So, be extra cautious about what you’re eating.

3) Tough Love for Obesity – Does it Really Work?

I bet you think a good old dose of tough love — à la Biggest Loser‘s Jillian Michaels — is exactly what you need to shed those unwanted pounds. However, screaming “put the doughnut down” public health programs don’t seem to work. Researchers at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, asked individuals how they felt about “government regulation, large–scale public health initiatives, media campaigns, personalized fitness programs, gastric banding surgery and commercial diet groups.” Respondents did not believe programs that were stigmatizing or that blamed and shamed individuals for being overweight were effective. According to the researchers, “Commercial dieting and media campaigns were perceived particularly badly, particularly the use of ‘scare tactics’ to encourage weight loss.” Conversely, those public health interventions perceived as non–judgmental, non–stigmatizing, and those that empowered individuals to improve their lifestyles rather than focusing on weight loss per se, were seen as helpful. A study by researchers at Duke University Medical Center reported in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine recorded the conversations between 40 primary care physicians and 461 of their overweight or obese patients over an 18–month period. The researchers found that three months after the office visit, patients whose doctors talked about diet and weight loss in a more motivational fashion — using predominantly reflective or empathic statements — were much more likely to lose weight than those whose physicians used a more judgmental or confrontational style of communication. Patients whose physicians communicated well lost about 3.5 pounds three months after the visit. Instead of asking a question like, ”So, you can’t fit exercise into your day?” making a reflective statement like, ”It sounds like you’re finding it hard to find time to exercise,” seemed to help patients open up more and give more meaningful information to their doctors.

4) Sleeping Helps You Lose Body Fat and Helps Fight Hunger.

Many studies have shown that sleeping is an important component of a healthy life. It reduces stress, reduces inflammation, increases your memory, keeps you alert … and the list goes on. Lack of sleep, on the other hand, can increase hunger and appetite. And when you’re tired you’re less likely to make the healthiest food choices. A new study appearing in Annals of Internal Medicine found that dieters who slept a full night (e.g., eight hours) lost the same amount of weight as those who slept fewer hours. However, those who slept a full night lost more than half of their weight from fat, whereas those who didn’t have a good night’s sleep lost only one–fourth of their weight from fat.

Of the two groups, the group that didn’t sleep a full night felt hungrier. Inadequate sleepers produced higher levels of ghrelin, a hormone that triggers hunger and reduces energy expenditure. When participants spent no more than 5.5 hours in bed, their ghrelin levels rose. According to researchers: “Higher ghrelin levels have been shown to reduce energy expenditure, stimulate hunger and food intake, promote retention of fat and increase hepatic glucose production to support the availability of fuel to glucose dependent tissues.”

5) What if You Can’t Sleep?

Set up your environment for sleep success. Make sure the temperature is correct and you have the proper bedding. Have a regular bedtime. Don’t stay in bed too long. Get rid of the TV in the bedroom. And make your sleep environment quiet — aesthetically and in terms of noise.

And exercise. According to research at the Sleep Disorders Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, “Regular aerobic exercise improves the quality of sleep, mood and vitality.” This study is the first to examine the effects of aerobic exercise on middle–age and older adults with a diagnosis of insomnia. According to study researchers, “Fifty percent of people in these age groups complain of chronic insomnia symptoms.”

The physical activity group exercised for “two 20–minute sessions four times per week or one 30–to–40–minute session four times per week, both for 16 weeks. Participants worked at 75 percent of their maximum heart rate on at least two activities, including walking or using a stationary bicycle or treadmill. Participants in the non–physical activity group participated in recreational or educational activities, such as a cooking class or a museum lecture, which met for about 45 minutes three to five times per week for 16 weeks.”

Exercise improved the participants’ sleep — they went from poor sleepers to good sleepers.

6) Planning to Move? Make Sure You Live in a Place Where You Can Walk and Cycle

Although it should be obvious, a study by researchers at Rutgers University appearing in the American Journal of Public Health proved a link between walking– and cycling–friendly communities and lower levels of obesity. Researchers found that people are more likely to have healthy weights if they live in places where walking and cycling are more common. The researchers analyzed statistics about walking and cycling from 14 countries, including Sweden, Spain and Great Britain.

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