Sunday, March 30, 2014

Which Holds More Weight in the Diet-Drinks-and-Heart-Issue Debate?

I’m not a researcher or a scientist. Let’s just be clear about that. But I’d like to think I’m a reasonable person.

So when presented with these two different research scenarios that involve ingredients I regularly consume, which do you think I thought held more weight? Which do YOU think holds more weight?
Scenario 1
Consider this first example: In July 2013, the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology issued a review of research on low calorie sweeteners like aspartame, which is often used in diet sodas (including my beloved Diet Coke). The review involved studying 22 years of scientific research on the safety of aspartame, and among the conclusions was this: “Low-calorie sweeteners are not related to vascular events ….” (Vascular events include strokes and heart attacks. For what it’s worth, that review also concluded this: “With reference to epidemiologic data, evidence on low-calorie sweeteners – and specifically aspartame – does not support the existence of a consistent association with hematopoietic neo- plasms, brain cancer, digestive sites, breast, prostate and several other neoplasms ….” Not sure what all of those are, but I’m glad to know they’re not associated with aspartame.)
Scenario 2
Next is this example: Researchers at the University of Iowa, who reportedly have no background in diet soda or low calorie sweeteners, presented a study in conjunction with the recent American College of Cardiology Conference assessing the potential association of postmenopausal female diet soda drinking and the risk of cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks and strokes. The research has not been peer-reviewed (that matters!), or published in a scientific journal. It was an observational study, which means there was no way to prove any cause and effect. I’ve actually seen media reports that have characterized the study as “informal.” In fact, the study author stated, "We only found an association, so we can't say that diet drinks cause these problems." 

My Reasonable Conclusion
Soooooo … you can probably guess that I’m leaning toward the review published in the peer-reviewed journal as holding the most weight here.

Haley Stevens, Ph.D., President of the Calorie Control Council, put it this way: “The findings of this study are very speculative and should be considered with caution as they have not been peer reviewed by independent scientists or published in a scientific journal. Additionally, these findings of postmenopausal women are not in line with the majority of the research on the general population which have concluded that there is no association between low-calorie sweeteners and cardiovascular events.”
Again, I’m no researcher or scientist. But as a reasonable person who cares about what she puts in her body, I feel that I know when to take research about my food and drink options seriously, and when it’s best to season it with a grain of salt.

Photo courtesy of and is used under Creative Commons 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Dr. Oz Show and Its “Tricks”

So have you heard about the latest Dr. Oz Show ridiculosity? On the March 10 show, the segment claimed low calorie sweeteners cause food cravings and weight gain. Dr. Oz actually said – and I quote -- “They’ve tricked your mind, and they can actually trick your gut.” I just … I just … I mean, really? Who falls for that stuff? The claim that low calorie sweeteners “trick” your body likely came from one opinion piece that has since been soundly refuted. Time to get some new material, Oz.

There have been so many actual real scientific studies -- by actual reputable medical authorities -- that have proven low calorie sweeteners can be safe, effective tools for managing weight. Seriously, who has more credibility? Dr. Oz, or the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association? I think the answer is clear. 

Okay, don’t take my word for it – here’s what Dr. James Hill, with the University of Colorado's Anschutz Medical Campus and co-founder of America On The Move, said in a statement from the Calorie Control Council: “Low calorie sweeteners can be useful tools to help with weight management, when used in combination with a healthy diet and exercise program. Small changes in the diet like walking ten extra minutes a day, taking three fewer bites of your hamburger, or consuming products with low calorie sweeteners can have a positive impact.”

Registered dietitian Robyn Flipse, who has more than 25 years of experience counseling patients, also chimed in on The Dr. Oz Show in this video on

So anyway, that’s the latest from The Dr. Oz Show. Don't let your own mind be "tricked" into believing this nonsense about low calorie sweeteners.

Friday, February 28, 2014

This is How We Do Olympics

So the 2014 winter Olympics have come and gone – dasvidaniya! With all the hype about Sochi not being totally prepared to host the Olympics horde, it seems the event was pulled off with just a few notable hitches.

I gotta be honest: I didn’t really watch much of the Olympics. Cold weather sports really aren’t my bag, though my husband loves them (he grew up in snowy New England). But, the Olympics are a worldwide extravaganza every four years, so one really can’t totally ignore the event, especially when TV coverage means the preemption of some of my favorite shows. Plus, when it comes to country-against-country sports, I find my patriotism kicking into high gear. U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

When you spend your days working on a laptop for a living, you find yourself updated with Olympics news through inadvertent online osmosis. So even though there wasn’t much event-viewing in my household, there were still some key Olympics moments that caught my family’s attention, including the following:
  • I just LOVED reading stories about the unfinished hotel rooms in Sochi. The journalists’ social media posts were so classic.
  • Olympics commercials are always fabulous. Did you see this great Coke ad (below)? Reminds me of that awesome “I’d like to teach the world to sing” ad from the 70s. 

  • This ad for McNuggets was cool, too – I like the music in the background. 

  • As always, I’m interested in the food angle, so I’ve been wondering what kind of food the Olympics people ate. Save for the kebabs, the foods in this article don’t look too yummy to me. But this piece makes the food sound more appetizing, describing a more Mediterranean flair (citrus, grapes, tomatoes, fish).
  • My husband and daughter watched some of the Nordic skiing events. My daughter was most interested in seeing Norway win, especially since her daddy told her Norway was where the movie “Frozen” takes place.
  • I was very, very excited when the U.S. men’s hockey team beat Russia – another “miracle on ice”? And I did catch a bit of the U.S.A. vs. Canada men’s hockey game (in case you hadn't heard, our team lost).
  • I liked checking the medal count every day – all part of my patriotism being on red alert. Wished we’d finished higher, but still, go U.S.A.!
  • My husband, who’s prone to offer up fascinating tidbits about almost anything, told me this interesting history behind the Olympics biathlon.
  • I was psyched to see our women’s bobsled team got two medals! Plus, I dig Steve Holcomb, the U.S. men’s bobsled superstar.

So there you have it – my family’s 2014 Olympics experience. You don’t have to be glued to the TV to absorb some Olympics culture. U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A.! …
Photo courtesy of Nedra and is used under Creative Commons 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Surviving Atlantartica: Stocking Up in Advance, Keeping Kid Occupied

Here in Atlanta we went through two major winter storms in just a few weeks. As has been reported all over the place, this part of the Southeast received snow and ice that shut down roads and almost everything else for days at a time. Atlanta (as well as most other places in the Deep South) doesn’t have the infrastructure to handle that degree of icy weather. Not enough snow plows or salt/gravel trucks to keep the roads manageable to avoid major disruptions.

There were many wonderful stories of people helping each other out during our snowmageddon. This guy handing out hot chocolate to stranded motorists. Social media sites launched on the fly to spread information about resources and shelters, helping people find places to stay. Local businesses let people sleep in their stores. Sometimes the worst (worst for our region, at least) brings out the best in people.
My own personal snow jam story is rather boring. Luckily, I work from home, and since my daughter’s preschool is in the neighborhood, I didn’t have any issues picking her up and getting her home safely. And before both storms I had time to go to the grocery store to stock up on food, toilet paper, Diet Coke, vino – everything I needed to get through a few days without leaving the house.

Our backyard snowman.
My daughter and I did drive each other a bit stir crazy, but otherwise we made it through relatively unscathed. We kept ourselves busy playing in the snow, sledding, doing art projects, Skyping with my husband (who was stuck out of town), reading, doing our best to limit TV watching and cooking/eating. Even though I went to the store ahead of the shutdown, we used up a lot of leftovers in our fridge -- I’m big into “eating down the fridge.” Lots of pasta, more veggies and fruit, less meat (when my husband’s home we eat LOTS of meat). Okay, maybe some chicken nuggets (organic) were on the table. For dessert, leather aprons; since we had maple syrup on hand, we had fun making those sugar-on-snow treats. And when my husband made it home, we celebrated with some yummy homemade tacos.
Speaking of storm preparedness: For the second snow storm, our city was really on the ball. Local officials closed schools with plenty of notice, many of the roads were prepped in advance and offices made arrangements to let their employees work from home. Residents were able to stay off the roads. Lessons were learned.  

P.S. As I’m writing this, it’s like 70 degrees in Atlanta. Who’s the laughingstock now?

Thursday, February 06, 2014

I Love Awards Season

As a pop culture freak, I’m legally obligated to obsess over Hollywood’s awards season. For example, I found myself glued to the Grammies last month, I never miss the Golden Globes and the Oscars is like my Super Bowl.

A major draw of watching the ceremonies is mocking some of the ridiculous, long-winded acceptance speeches. My husband likes to throw in an occasional “Wrap it up!” during particularly interminable, self-indulgent monologues, which always makes me laugh. It’s also fun chatting with friends on social media during the awards, and checking out the commercials. Did anyone catch this commercial (see below) that aired during the Grammies? I’m also a DWTS fan, so it was interesting to see it was choreographed by one of the dancers.

Another huge part of enjoying awards season is the fashion, of course. I watch the red carpet parade and browse fashion blogs to see which stars wore what dresses and tuxes to which events, and of course, who wore what best. I love a beautiful frock as much as the next person, but I can’t help but wonder sometimes just how uncomfortable those dresses must be. Some of them look really, really tight – and I’m sure those support garments are NOT fun to sit around in for hours. Lately, even some of the men’s tuxes look snug.

Thinking about the fabulous attire gets me thinking about what level of fitness celebrities must maintain to look good under flashing bulbs. I can’t fathom putting myself through the kinds of brutal, deprivation-based fitness regimes I imagine they endure to wear those tiny clothes. I’m a much bigger fan of a more moderate, realistic approach to health: regular exercise, nutritious eating, diet sodas and plenty of sleep when I can get it. Then again, I’m not a celebrity. Oh well! 
But I’ll always love awards season – the drama, the style, the snark, the snubs, the glitz. I love being a bystander watching at home, sipping from a Diet Coke or occasional glass of wine, trading sarcastic comments online with my friends, judging from afar. Please, awards season – don’t ever change!