Friday, September 19, 2014

I Have Some Questions About This Recent Study

Have you ever had a low calorie sweetener in its purest form? That is, have you ever tried something like aspartame in any form other than what you can get already packaged at a grocery store or restaurant, or already included in a beverage? How would a normal person even get their hands on something like that? I wouldn’t even know where to start. So, if you were going to do a study on how low calorie sweeteners affect humans, why would you test using the pure form that’s not even readily available to, let alone consumed by, normal humans?

I ask these questions because a recent article published in the journal Nature focused on research using these unrealistic scenarios, among others. As I’ve said before, I’m no expert on research, but I like to think of myself as a critical thinker. The methods these researchers used during their study just don’t seem to make much sense if you’re wanting to evaluate the effects of common low calorie sweeteners consumed by humans.
The Calorie Control Council does a good job of explaining what’s wrong with the research in that study here. This summary breaks down the research in an even simpler way. And besides all that, the research contradicts established studies from respected groups like the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Heart Association.

Debra R Judelson, MD, Scientific Advisor to the Calorie Control Council, said, “The study published in Nature this week on artificial sweeteners goes against what we know as clinicians and what our patients tell us. The study tries to link low calorie sweeteners with weight gain and ignores the extensive data that demonstrates that low calorie sweeteners help us limit our calorie intake and help control our weight.”

So just use caution when you try to decipher the results of studies conducted like this one.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

To market, to market

We have an excellent farmer’s market in our neighborhood. It’s held every Sunday from spring to late fall, and it’s a central gathering place for many people in the neighborhood. We see friends there, hang out on blankets, listen to (usually bluegrass) music. Our daughter gets her face painted there almost every Sunday.

Picked up these babies just this morning
at the farmer's market.
But the real reason to go there is the crazy delicious food. Popsicles, wood-fired pizza, Korean bulgogi buns, burgers, pastries, cured meats, yogurt, cheeses, homemade pasta, bread. But those are nothing compared to the amazing fresh produce. Greens, lettuce, berries, squash, tomatoes, corn, herbs, green beans, potatoes, mushrooms, cucumbers, peppers … and so on.  The line for the peach stand is always the longest in early summer, and now the same is true for the apple queue. Food just tastes better when it comes from the farmer’s market. (Or I suppose your own garden, but my black thumb makes that a non-starter.) Here’s a cool article I found on what’s good at the farmer’s market right about now.
So many different ways to put a meal together with farmer’s market food. For example, the other day our dinner consisted of corn and sliced salt-and-peppered tomatoes from the neighborhood market. Oh, and there was yummy steak, too, but the veggies were the true stars of the meal.

Here’s an awesome recipe tailor-made to make use of a farmer’s market haul. Need something to wash it down? Use some of that farmer’s market fruit to make this yummy sangria. And a sweet ending using more market fruit.

Next month my family is moving to a new state. I’ve already scoped out the farmer’s market scene, and I’m happy to say there’s one within walking distance to my new home. Market day will continue to be on schedule for a long time.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Harry and Me

Guess what Daniel Radcliffe says is one of his favorite drinks? No, it’s not pumpkin juice, or even butter beer. It’s Diet Coke! I knew I liked that guy.

I mean, not only did he play one of the most iconic heroes in literary history (I’m a Harry Potter geek), but he also seems to have emerged from that whole child star treadmill relatively unscathed. He has a new movie out – a rom com. Not sure if I’ll see it, but I think it’s positive for him to branch out into new movie genres. (I like to think I’d be good at advising Hollywood folk on their career decisions.)

Speaking of Harry Potter: I’m currently reading the first of those books to my daughter. At first I hesitated starting this with her while she’s so young (not quite five), but “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (or “Philosopher's Stone” as it’s known in Harry’s home country), starts the series off on a tamer note. The really scary stuff happens further along in the series.
And reading it again brings back all the cool memories I had of reading the books myself. I was an adult when I read them, obviously, but the themes are just so purely universal. Rowling really knows how to write in a way that adults can relate to. And have you heard about this research study that argues the Harry Potter books are great for teaching tolerance? Can’t beat that.

So Danielle Radcliffe loves Diet Coke, I love Diet Coke, I like Daniel Radcliffe, he played Harry Potter, I love Harry Potter and am passing it down to my daughter. Dan, if I ever see you out somewhere, your next Diet Coke’s on me.
Illustration courtesy of Karly Nunez and used under Creative Commons

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Questioning the questioning of research

I read the article “Does Industry Funding Influence Research?” the other day on The Skinny on Low Cal. In the article, Neva Cochran, MS, RDN, LD, a registered dietitian, talks about a recent study in a medical journal that “found that participants who consumed artificially sweetened beverages on a reduced calorie diet were just as successful at losing weight in 12 weeks as a group that drank only water.” In fact, the study apparently showed that those who drank artificially sweetened drinks, such as my beloved Diet Coke, actually lost more weight than those who consumed just water.

Neva’s article then turned to look at the media coverage of this study, much of which focused on how the study was funded by the American Beverage Association. Headlines said things like “Industry-funded study implies diet soda is superior to water for weight loss.”

Which made me wonder, why wouldn’t an industry want to learn more about itself, and use its own resources to fund research studies? Neva’s article addressed that this way: “First, there is much industry funding of research. Who else is likely to fund research on a food or ingredient than those who manufacture or grow it? And to say this research is dubious is to imply that these respected researchers are unethical and that the review process for the peer-reviewed journals in which they are published is also suspect.”
That makes sense to me. In fact, according to Neva’s article, there was an actual research study about research studies that covers this whole concept. THAT study looked at the research designs, reporting quality and funding sources of more than 2,500 peer-reviewed research articles from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Evidence Analysis Library (say that five times fast!). The conclusion of this research study about research studies was that “industry funded research reports were no more likely to receive a neutral or negative quality rating than those funded by government sources.”

Here’s my take: I’ve worked for associations for a long time, and have even been involved in coordinating funding of university research studies. Based on my experience, I will say confidently that no self-respecting researcher would want to put their name on a study, no matter how it was funded, if it wasn’t on the up and up. Reputation is everything in the research field.

Photo courtesy of Stefano Bertolotti and used under Creative Commons

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

This mama’s patting herself on the back

If you’re like me and you love Diet Coke, then you’ve probably seen this awesome “Summer of Sharing” campaign playing out on the cans of your preferred beverage.

The first one I got said “Share a Diet Coke with Mom.” See? I took a picture of the can here:

I liked the mom mention. I’ve certainly shared Diet Cokes with my mom. And of course, I’m a mom, too. All this got me thinking about how moms (and dads!) are in charge of helping direct their kids toward healthy choices, especially in the food and beverage department. Which got me further thinking about how we do that with our daughter.

We’re lucky that our daughter is a pretty good eater. When she first started eating solid foods, she would eat just about anything. So our natural conclusion was that meant we must be the most awesome parents EVAH!
Alas, then she started developing food preferences, so she wouldn’t eat just anything anymore. Goodbye olives! But still, she has enough range in her diet that we feel pretty good about it. Here’s how we try to keep her on track:
  • We generally stick to whole wheat and whole grain versions of anything carb-y: bread, pasta, tortillas, brown rice, etc.
  • We always have fresh fruit around. The kid really likes any kind of fruit, so that helps. My husband deserves a lot of credit for her love of fruit – it’s one of his go-to snacks, and they eat a lot of fruit together.
  • She’s not as universal in her appreciation of veggies, but we still do okay with a decent variety. We’ve got the orange (carrots, sweet potatoes), green (cucumbers, salad greens, green bell peppers, celery), red (tomatoes, red bell peppers) and yellow (yellow tomatoes, yellow bell peppers) parts of the veggie rainbow covered. We can even get her to eat broccoli sometimes, which is impressive considering her mother does NOT care for the stuff.
  • She also loves dairy! Yogurt (especially the Greek kind), cheese and milk are golden.
  • Protein? Hmmmm … we’re doing okay there. She loves the salty, cured stuff like bacon and salami (hubby’s turned her on to those delights). But she also does well with leaner proteins. We have a lot of chicken and turkey sausage, flank steak, organic chicken and pork tenderloin in our house, and the kid’ll eat them all. Plus, she loves nuts, eggs and beans, so we seem to be doing okay in the non-meat protein area.
  • Do we do treats? Yeah, we do. But in moderation.
  • At restaurants, we do the best we can. Chicken tenders and pizza do happen, but they are generally accompanied by a fruit or veggie, washed down with milk.
So that part of our parenting seems solid! And that right there deserves a Diet Coke shout out. I think I’ll share one with myself right now.