The Latest in Food News to Help You Get and Stay Healthy

by Charles Platkin, PhD

The Latest in to Help You Get and Stay

The Health Halo – Organic May NOT Mean Healthier

Just seeing the term “organic” on a label causes many consumers to believe a food is healthier as well as lower in calories.

A study conducted by Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab recruited115 people from a local shopping mall. Participants were asked to evaluate three pairs of products ­ two yogurts, two cookies and two portions of potato chips. One item from each food pair was labeled “organic,” while the other was labeled “regular.”

“Even though these foods were all the same, the ‘organic’ label greatly influenced people’s perceptions. The cookies and yogurt were estimated to have significantly fewer calories when labeled ‘organic’ and people were willing to pay up to 23.4 percent more for them.”

Additionally, foods labeled organic were thought to be lower in fat and more nutritious. And, get this, the so-called organic chips seemed more appetizing and the yogurt was judged to be more flavorful. “ ‘Regular’ cookies were reported to taste better ­ possibly because people often believe healthy foods are not tasty.”

Best advice: Read labels and be skeptical of packaged or processed food claims.

Modify Diet and Exercise at the Same Time to Get Best Results

Many weight-loss programs encourage participants to focus on diet first and then eventually exercise. But researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine found that changing diet and exercise at the same time “gives a bigger boost than tackling them sequentially.”

“It may be particularly useful to start both at the same time,” said Abby King, Ph.D., lead author of the study and a professor of health research and policy and of medicine. “If you need to start with one, consider starting with physical activity first.”

According to the news release, “Despite the challenge of making multiple changes to their already-busy routines at once, those who began changing diet and exercise habits at the same time were most likely to meet national guidelines for exercise ­ 150 minutes per week ­ and nutrition ­ five to nine servings of fruit and vegetables daily, and keeping calories from saturated fats at 10 percent or less of their total intake. Those who started with exercise first did a good job of meeting both the exercise and diet goals, though not quite as good as those who focused on diet and exercise simultaneously.”

Another study from researchers at Ohio State University’s College of Public Health found that adults who “prepare their own meals and exercise on the same day are likely spending more time on one of those activities at the expense of the other.”  Researchers reported that a 10-minute increase in food-preparation time was associated with a lower probability of exercising for 10 more minutes.

The take-home message from both of these studies is that you need to carefully plan and schedule healthy behaviors until they become automatic habits. Yes, exercise and food preparation (which leads to healthier eating) both involve an investment in time; however, with the proper planning (e.g., batch cooking, see:; making exercise a utility, such as walking to the post office every time you need to mail a letter, see and commitment you can incorporate both permanently.

Group Rewards Lead to Better

Attaching financial incentives to group weight loss led to significantly greater weight loss than cash awards based on an individual’s success in losing weight on his or her own, say researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. The study “compared two weight-loss incentive strategies. The first strategy paid individual employees $100 per month for each month that they met their weight-loss goals. The second strategy offered groups of five people $500 per month for each month they met their goals. In the second group, employees who met their goals received the balance of money unearned by employees who did not meet their goals. [Meaning that if three of the five in the group met their goals they’d get to split the $200 left over from the two who didn’t meet their goal.] At the end of the six-month study, the group cash incentive led to a weight loss that was approximately 7 pounds greater than the individual cash incentive.”

Try to set up group weight-loss incentives where losers take all. See and

Close the Menu NOW and You Can Save Calories and Eat Healthier

According to research appearing in the Journal of Consumer Research, those who feel completion in their decision-making process tend to be happier with that decision. According to the news release: “In a series of studies, consumers who were asked to choose from a large selection of products (chocolates, teas, biscuits) then either performed or didn’t perform a physical act of closure. In one study, consumers were asked to choose one of 24 chocolates displayed on a tray covered by a lid and then either put the lid back on the tray or not before eating the selected chocolate. In other studies, consumers chose an item from an extensive menu and either closed the menu or not before tasting the chosen item. Consumers who closed the lid or the menu liked what they ate more than those who didn’t perform an act of closure.”

Based on this research, if, for instance, you are happy with your decision to eat the entree you ordered, you’ll probably be less inclined to eat more food.  The reason is that satisfied eaters will probably eat less.  So make sure to close that menu, close the box of candy (and put it away) and close down the kitchen after you eat.

Chocolate Might Be Getting Lower In Calories and Tasting the Same

The reality is that most of us love chocolate; the problem is that it’s very high in calories (and fat).   The good news is that scientists at the University of Warwick in England have found a way to take out much of the cocoa butter and milk fats that go into chocolate bars, “substituting them with tiny droplets of juice measuring under 30 microns in diameter. They infused orange and cranberry juice into milk, dark and white chocolate using what is known as a Pickering emulsion. Crucially, the clever chemistry does not take away the chocolaty ‘mouth-feel’ given by the fatty ingredients. This is because the new technique maintains the prized Polymorph V content, the substance in the crystal structure of the fat which gives chocolate its glossy appearance, firm and snappy texture but which also allows it to melt smoothly in the mouth.”

Substitute Mushrooms for Meat and Lose Weight

According to a one-year, randomized clinical trial conducted by researchers at the Weight Management Center at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, substituting white button mushrooms for red meat can be a useful strategy for enhancing and maintaining weight loss. “Participants included obese adults (73 adults; 88% women; mean age 48.4 years) who were placed in an intervention group eating approximately 1 cup of mushrooms per day in place of meat, and a standard diet control group.
“At the end of the one-year trial, researchers found that participants who substituted mushrooms for meat lost 7 pounds, showed improvements in body composition compared to participants on the standard diet, and maintained the weight loss.”

Could this simply be replacing a higher-calorie food with one that is lower in calories?  Of course, but the trick is that the mushrooms seemed to satisfy the meat eaters.  Make sure that when you do replace high-calorie foods in your diet with others that have fewer calories, you make substitutions that are similarly satisfying.

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