Friday, May 20, 2016

What's Wrong with this New York Times Headline?

I recently came across this headline from an article published in the health section of the New York Times a few months ago: Which Type of Exercise Is Best for the Brain? My interest was piqued. Below the headline there were pictures of people lifting weights and sprinting. "Oh goody! I'm going to find out where I should be focusing my workouts so I will maintain my brain power" I thought. But the first sentence dashed my hopes into a million little neurons:  "Some forms of exercise may be much more effective than others at bulking up the brain, according to a remarkable new study in rats."  In rats belonged in the headline, although, at least it was in the first sentence. Many journalists don't reveal that the study they're dazzling their readers with was with animals until several paragraphs in. This article belonged in the science section, not the health section.

So, let's review why animal studies often don't translate to humans: Humans aren't giant rodents! The journalist did describe, in excellent detail, how the researchers attempted to mimic human activity in the study: little rodents climbed walls with teeny tiny weights attached to their tails or trotted on miniature treadmills. So maybe the next time I go to the gym, I should attempt the climbing wall that terrifies me with a weight attached to my yoga pants? Luckily for me, the moderate running on the treadmill turned out to be best for increasing the number of brain cells (in rats). But did the rats remember where they put their car keys?

The journalist does clearly point all of this out towards the end of the article but by that time you're ready to give up your weight training to run like a rat on the treadmill.

Could this study eventually be confirmed in humans? Sure. And I hope it is. But for now, I'm not giving up my weight training or my running - but I am staying away from the climbing wall. 

Beth Kitchin, PhD, RDN
Assistant Professor of Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham

Monday, January 4, 2016

8 Reasons Your Resolutions Are Doomed to Fail

Resolutions are really nothing more than goals. And the way you set your goals can have a big effect on whether or not you achieve them. At this time of year, many people set health goals like losing weight or exercising. But I’m guessing no one ever taught you how to set goals the right way, so your resolutions will likely fail. Here’s why:

1.    You didn’t make your resolutions actions/behavior oriented. If weight loss was your “goal”, then you are doomed to fail. “I will lose weight” or “I will lose 20 pounds” are not actions. You can’t “do” an outcome – you can “do” behaviors. Setting behavioral goals such as “I will switch to diet soda or water instead of drinking regular sodas” or “I will keep a food record and track my calories” are behaviors that will lead to weight loss. Don’t resolve to “lose weight” but resolve to cut back on snacks, eat more fruits and vegetables, eat breakfast, reduce portion sizes. Or, sign up for an exercise or weight loss class.  These actions will help you achieve the outcome – weight loss – that you want.
2.    You Set the Bar Way Too High. Not being realistic about your resolution sets you up for failure. Don’t resolve to run 5 miles every day, 7 days a week. Set goals that you really, honestly feel you can achieve. It can be as small as walking 5 minutes a day or adding in one extra piece of fruit every day. After you achieve that goal, set newer, higher goals. Take baby steps so that you can feel good about your achievements and stay motivated.
3.    You didn’t make a plan and write it down. If you don’t put it on paper (or an app) you’re less likely to follow through. Charting your progress on your plan will help you stay on track.
4.    You Weren’t Specific Enough.  “I will exercise more” sounds great but what does it mean? The more specific you are, the more likely you are to follow through. “I am going to walk for 20 minutes after work on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday morning” is much more specific and tells you exactly what you are going to do.
5.    You Weren’t Flexible. What if rains and you can’t walk after work on Tuesday? Will you go to the gym? Do you have a workout DVD that you can use inside? Having a backup plan makes is a key to resolution success.
6.    You didn’t reward yourself. No, just the joy of achieving your goal is not enough. We are humans and humans like stuff.  You need to reward yourself with something meaningful. It may be as simple as a bubble bath, binge watching Downton Abbey, or a lunch date with a special friend.
7.    You Didn’t Ask for Help. For some of us, going it alone goes just fine. But sometimes, you need to recruit some help. Chances are you’ve got friends and family members who have the same goals you do. For instance, make walking dates with friends. There is strength – and support – in numbers. You may need to seek professional help – especially if you are trying to quit smoking or lower your cholesterol. Seek the right professional to help you.
8.    You’re Unforgiving. If you are too hard on yourself when you don’t reach your goal, your motivation will bottom out. You should constantly reevaluate and re-set your goals and keep at it.

Well-constructed goals can stack the odds in favor of actually achieving your New Year’s resolution. So go forth and set some realistic, flexible behavioral goals and make it happen!

Beth Kitchin, PhD, RDN
Assistant Professor, Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham
Follow me on Twitter: @DrBethK

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Best Cranberry Recipe Ever!

Welcome to the greatest cranberry recipe ever. I made this for my family last Christmas and everybody loved it - even my 7 year old nephew. I've been making it for my own Thanksgiving dinners for years. One of the things I love most about it is how easy and "unmessy" it is. The most work-intensive part is chopping up the pears. I also love that you don't put the cranberries through a food mill - so it stays chunky and you keep the skins - where a lot of the nutrition lies. I love to eat this leftover for days after Thanksgiving. I treat it like dessert since I am not a fan of pumpkin pie. I cut the sugar to about 3/4 cup - a whole cup is a little too sweet for me. But if you like it sweeter, keep it in. Don't try to cut the sugar too much. Cranberries are very bitter on their own and need a lot of sugar! I skip the last two steps - the canning part - and just put it in the fridge and eat it for many days after the holiday meal!

Pear Cranberry Compote

Recipe type: PreservesSource:
Author: Marisa 
Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 1 hour 30 mins
Total time: 1 hour 50 mins
Serves/Yield: 2 pints

If you're planning your Thanksgiving menu already, this pear cranberry compote would complement the turkey quite nicely. Just skip the canning process and store jars in the refrigerator for up to ten days.
  • 3 pounds thin-skinned pears
  • 1 pint cranberries (approximately 8 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  1. Chop pears into small pieces. Place in a heavy-bottomed, non-reactive pot. Add cranberries and orange juice.
  2. Put a lid on the pot and place it over low heat. Cook until the pears are very, very soft and the cranberries have popped, about 1 hour.
  3. When the pears are soft, use a potato masher to break the fruit. Add the sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg and stir to combine.
  4. Raise temperature to medium-high heat and simmer, stirring constantly for 5-7 minutes, to help evaporate the liquid in the compote. When it has darkened in color and no longer looks watery, it is done.
  5. Funnel compote into prepared pint jars and process in a boiling water for 20 minutes. Be sure to read our post on Canning Basics if you have any questions.
  6. When time is up, place jars on a folded kitchen towel to cool. Once jars are cool, check seals and store in a cool, dark place.

 Enjoy the cranberries and have a Happy Thanksgiving! 

Beth Kitchin, PhD, RDN
Assistant Professor, Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham

Monday, May 25, 2015

New Study: Nutrition Therapy Can Lower Your Chances of Getting Type 2 Diabetes! Are You at Risk?

Get out your pencil and a piece of paper for the Diabetes Risk Test! Why? A new study shows that people who are at risk for type 2 diabetes can lower that risk by getting medical nutrition therapy from a registered dietitian. The researchers looked randomly put 76 overweight or obese adults with moderately high blood sugar in the “usual care” group or in the nutrition therapy group. The usual care group was told to exercise and eat healthy. The nutrition therapy group got one-on-one nutrition counseling. After 12 weeks, the usual care group’s blood sugar went up. The group who got nutrition counseling saw their blood sugar go down.
Why is this study important? Your insurance may not cover a meeting with a dietitian until you actually get diabetes. Studies like this show the importance of medical nutrition therapy before you get diabetes - at the pre-diabetic stage. 

So, how to you know you are at risk? Take this test on

Know Your Risk: 

How old are you?

Less than 40 years (0 points)
40—49 years (1 point)
50—59 years (2 points)
60 years or older (3 points)

Are you a man or a woman?

Man (1 point) Woman (0 points)

If you are a woman, have you ever been diagnosed with gestational diabetes?
Yes (1 point) No (0 points)

Do you have a mother, father, sister, or
brother with diabetes?
Yes (1 point) No (0 points)

Have you ever been diagnosed with high blood pressure?
Yes (1 point) No (0 points)

Are you physically active?
Yes (0 points) No (1 point)

What is your weight status? (Use this Table)

As you can see, being overweight, having a family history, not being physically active, and having high blood pressure are all things that can increase your chances of getting diabetes.

If you scored a 5 or higher, you should talk to your doctor about getting a blood sugar test to see if you have pre-diabetes or diabetes. Your doctor can refer you to a registered dietitian! You can also find a dietitian in your area at

Beth Kitchin, PhD, RDN
Assistant Professor, Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham

Reference: Parker A, et al. Abstract #1209. Presented at: Presented at: AACE 24th Annual Scientific & Clinical Congress; May 13-17, 2015; Nashville, Tenn. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

UAB Study: Life After Breast Cancer and How Exercise Can Help

UAB researchers want to know how to help breast cancer survivors exercise more to lower the chances of the cancer coming back. If you are a breast cancer survivor, you may be able to help by joining the BEAT Cancer Exercise Study!
One of the biggest fears of breast cancer survivors is the cancer coming back. Dealing with the worries, feeling strong, healthy, and confident take time. Researchers are studying ways to lower the chances of the cancer returning. They are also studying ways to help women cope with the stress and worry. Here is what they know so far:  

  • Don’t Drink Too Much Alcohol. Drinking alcohol may be related to a higher risk of breast cancer. Drinking large amounts of alcohol seems to stimulate more estrogen production in the body that could increase one type of breast cancer.  So, limit your alcohol intake to no more than one alcoholic beverage a day or fewer. When it comes to alcohol and breast cancer, less is best!
  • Stay at a Healthy Weight.  While being overweight before the diagnosis of breast cancer seems to be the strongest predictor of recurrence, many doctors recommend maintaining a healthy weight for better health. Many women gain weight after a breast cancer diagnosis. The numbers could be as high as 60% to 70%. Some studies show that this could increase the risk of breast cancer recurrence and of heart disease. Less exercise, starting menopause, and some breast cancer treatments may be to blame for the increased weight gain.

  • Eat Low Fat. Some studies show that a low fat diet can lower the chances of recurrence. Focus on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats!

  • Get Checked for Vitamin D. Low levels of vitamin D may be related to an increased risk of breast cancer. Taking more is not better, but if your levels are low, you need to get them into the normal, healthy range.

  • Stay on Your Medicines. Be sure to stick with your medication regimen that your cancer doctor prescribes. Many women don’t take their medicines as their doctor advises – this could lead to a cancer coming back.

  • Exercise! Ten-year survival rates are higher for women who exercise.

And speaking of exercise, here is a great opportunity to help researchers and yourself if you are a breast cancer survivor! UAB researchers are working with the National Cancer Institute on the BEAT Cancer Study. BEAT stands for Better Exercise Adherence for Treatment. They want to see if they can help breast cancer survivors exercise more to lower their stress levels and lower the chances of the cancer coming back.
The 12-week program encourages women to walk at a healthy pace. If you take part in the study, the staff will help you begin an exercise program and monitor your progress. You begin with 20 minutes a day, three times a week and working toward 150 minutes a week. During the program’s first six weeks, you will receive coaching from an exercise specialist and learn how to use a heart-rate monitor.
You may qualify for the BEAT study if you:
·       You have had breast cancer
·       Are 19 to 70 years old
·       Do not exercise more than 60 minutes a week
·       205-975-1247 or email

     Beth Kitchin, PhD, RDN
Assistant Professor, Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Taking a Closer Look at Eye Health Supplements

If you’re taking a nutritional supplement for your eyes, you might want to look a little more closely at what’s in it.

Back in 2001, a well-done study by the National Eye institute found that a specific combination of nutrients could slow down the progression of age-related macular degeneration. Macular degeneration is one of the biggest causes of blindness in people over the age of 65.

The landmark study is “AREDS” (Age-Related Eye Disease Study). The researchers randomly assigned over 3600 participants either to a placebo or to a high dose supplement. The researchers found that the participants on the AREDS supplement reduced their risk of progressing to advanced disease by about 25%. The researchers also looked at whether the supplement had an effect on cataracts. It did not.

The supplement only helped people at the intermediate and advanced of macular degeneration. People in the early stages did not see much benefit. So this high-dose supplementation is only for people with intermediate or advanced stage macular degeneration and should only be taken under the supervision of an eye doctor.

The AREDS Formula:

500 mg vitamin C
400 IU’s vitamin E
15 mg beta-carotene OR Lutein/Zeaxanthin
80 mg zinc (as zinc oxide)
2 mg copper (as cupric acid)

These amounts are much higher than what you could get in your diet or in a typical vitamin/mineral supplement.  Of course, after this study came out, sales of eye supplements boomed. But recently some researchers took a look at some popular eye formulas on the market. What they found, is that despite claims to promote eye health, few of them contained the AREDS formula. Many of them marketed themselves as promoting eye health in general when there is really no evidence that they help. ­­­­­­

Eye Formulas that Met Standards:
  • PreserVision Supplements
  • I-Caps AREDS Formula (although, when I looked at the formulation online, this one does not seem to meet the guidelines)

Eye Vitamins NOT meeting the Standard:
  • Eye Science Macular Health Formula 
  • Ocuvite Eye Vitamins

Here is a detailed list of supplements with a comparison to the ARED formula. However, when I looked online, some of the supplements on this list that they state are the same as the AREDS formula, did not seem to be the same!

Surprisingly, none of the Ocuvite formulas had the recommended levels of nutrients in the AREDS study. Also, these supplements that did not meet the standards also added a lot of additional nutrients that have not been studied for eye health. So basically for this last list, the makers are making a lot of unproven claims and don’t have the right formula.

The Bottom Line: If you have macular degeneration, talk to your doctor about which eye supplement is best for you.  Read the labels carefully to make sure they have the right combination of nutrients in them.  If you are shopping for the supplement, you need to compare directly the label on the bottle with the information from the National Eye Institute.  And remember, if you do not have macular degeneration, there is no proof that an eye health supplement will help prevent diseases of the eye!

For more information on eye supplements, the ARED study, and advice on whether you need an eye health supplement, visit the National Eye Institute site

Beth Kitchin, PhD, RDN
Assistant Professor, Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham