Monday, December 20, 2010

Should Santa Diet?

With so much focus on the obesity epidemic in the United States, you might think that St. Nick should lighten up a bit. After all, he is a role model of sorts for America’s children. But would the world be a better place with a thin Sana Claus? Is forcing Santa to lose weight going too far? Can a fat Santa be a healthy Santa?

Let’s explore if Santa’s weight problem is, indeed, a problem. Studies show that fitness level is a much better measure of someone’s health than their weight. If Santa passes the following tests, we should not worry about his weight:

  • Blood Pressure below 120/80
  • Blood Sugar below 100
  • Cholesterol below 200
  • LDL’s below 100
  • HDL’s above 60
  • Triglycerides below 150
We know that Santa gets plenty of exercise on Christmas Eve but he needs to be walking (or snow shoeing) at least 30 minutes on most days of the week as well. We also know that Santa does not smoke which lowers his chances of getting heart disease and several kinds of cancers. Not smoking also helps Santa deliver presents without getting out of breath. But Santa still needs to eat a balances diet. Here’s how you can help Santa out.

Healthy Santa Snacks:

  • Skim or 1% milk. Santa needs milk to wash down those cookies. Milk is loaded with protein that will keep Santa’s muscles strong as he unloads all of our presents. It’s also got calcium to lower Santa’s chances of breaking a bone in case of a hard landing.
  • Cookie Control. If you’re sticking with the traditional Santa snack of milk and cookies, be sure to practice portion control. Remember, you’re not the only one leaving him food. No more than one or two Oreos (50 calories each) should sustain Santa until he gets to the next house.
  • Think Mediterranean. Santa needs fat in his diet to stay jolly so let’s make that fat the healthy kind. The Mediterranean diet is packed with healthy plant fats like olives and olive oil. So how about leaving Santa some hummus and pita chips?
  • Nuts and Seeds. Nuts and seeds are also healthy fats and if Santa is getting behind on schedule, they travel well. He can throw them in his sack and be on his way. The reindeer like them too.
  • Balance with Fruits and Veggies. Santa cannot live on cookies alone! He would welcome some carrot sticks with ranch dressing or a banana that he can take with him on the sled. Why not pack up some apples with peanut butter for the trans-Atlantic leg of his trip?
  • Don’t Drink and Fly. Save the alcohol for Christmas night. When I was a kid, my dad told me that Santa really wanted a beer or a glass of scotch (no ice) for his snack. But that’s not really a very good idea. Don’t leave Santa alcohol. Drinking and flying is a no-no.
Beth Kitchin, MS, RD
Assistant Professor of Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Low Calorie Thanksgiving? Don't Bother!

I get tons of requests at this time of year asking how to make the Thanksgiving meal healthier. My advice? Don’t bother. Thanksgiving is just one day – or two or three if you have leftovers! But I think people should enjoy the traditional dishes that make this day special to us. One day is not going to make or break anyone’s diet.

But if you’re struggling with your weight, you definitely want to avoid weight gain over the holidays. So here are my big tips for having a fun holiday, enjoying your favorite foods, but staying on track with your health and weight.

Think Long Term. The problem with Thanksgiving is not that day – or any day in particular. But Thanksgiving does signal the start of a month long holiday food frenzy that won’t end until New Year’s Day. In terms of your health habits, think in terms of several days at a time. How are those three or four days balancing out?

Don’t Try to Lose Weight. The holidays may not be the best time for you to lose weight. If you’ve been losing weight over the past couple of months, make the goal of not gaining any weight. That way, you can enjoy the holiday and just pick back up your weight loss goals after the holiday.

Be Active. Go for lots of walks, don’t skip the gym, and make time for physical activity. If you balance out your eating with activity, you are much less likely to gain weight.

Choose the Best and Leave the Rest. This weekend and over the holidays, choose the foods that you really love. If your Aunt Mary makes the best pecan pie in the world and you only get to have it over the holidays, you’ll regret it if you deny yourself that pie. But, skip the chips and dip – you can have that any time. And those little store bought cookies that taste like cardboard? Why bother?

Eat Slowly and Enjoy Your Family and Friends. Yes, the holidays are about the food – but they’re also about spending time with family and friends – so slow down your eating and really enjoy the day.

Don’t Starve Yourself to Save Calories. Skipping meals to save up calories for a party or dinner will backfire.

Eat Healthy When You Can. When you’re not at parties or dinners, eat as healthy as you can. Then you can eat the not-so-healthy holiday foods when the time comes. Think balance and you can enjoy holiday foods without gaining weight!

Beth Kitchin MS RD
Assistant Professor, Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham

Friday, October 29, 2010

Mean Maura Offends in her Anti-Obese Blog

A right to free speech does, in most cases, include the right to offensive speech. And offend she did. This week, a Marie Claire magazine blogger made snarky comments about obese people kissing on TV – specifically the obese couple on the TV show Mike and Molly.  Here are just a few of Maura Kelly’s nasty comments:

  • “I think I'd be grossed out if I had to watch two characters with rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other ... because I'd be grossed out if I had to watch them doing anything.”
  • "To be brutally honest, even in real life, I find it aesthetically displeasing to watch a very, very fat person simply walk across a room — just like I'd find it distressing if I saw a very drunk person stumbling across a bar or a heroine addict slumping in a chair."
While Ms. Kelly certainly has the right to be turned off by the sight of fat people kissing and canoodling – she should have the sense to keep her personal prejudices to herself. But, let me play devil’s advocate: perhaps her admission simply reveals the prejudice that obese people face but may be ignored by the politically correct.

If you’ve not seen Maura Kelly's blog, take a look. See what you think. Yes, she apologized but is that apology merely a defensive tactic to protect her now shaky reputation (and salvage book sales of her upcoming novel)?

I’d love to see your comments on this. I could bore you with the abundance of research data that shows that obese people do indeed face discrimination in education, the work place and in the health care system. But I won’t. Maura has already taken care of driving that point home.

Beth Kitchin MS RD
Assistant Professor
University of Alabama at Birmingham
Department of Nutrition Sciences

Friday, October 22, 2010

Food Court: Cheese VS Constipation

In the world of food and nutrition, some foods get charged with causing some pretty bad things. But what's the evidence? If we took them to food court, would they get convicted based on the evidence? Let's take cheese to food court for causing constipation. And yes, i am the judge.

Charges against cheese: Quite a few of my patients tell me that cheese makes them constipated. I became curious about the scientific evidence for and against this charge because I am a daily eater of cheese and have never had any problems.

Evidence: So what’s the evidence for cheese causing constipation? Not much as it turns out. I found two studies that looked at this quesion. The first study is an observational study – meaning that the participants in the study were asked about their diets and about their bowel habits. In this study, people who ate cheese, fruits and vegetables regularly were less likely to have constipation. The people who did not eat cheese, fruits or vegetables regularly were more likely to have constipation. Does this mean that cheese does not cause constipation? Not necessarily. This kind of study cannot show cause and effect. It could mean that people with constipation simply avoided cheese. But it is interesting that regular cheese eaters did not have as much constipation.

The second study I found was a clinical trial – the kind of study that can show cause and effect. The researchers looked at the effect of eating cheese on constipation of older people living in a retirement home. The researchers found that cheese did not have any effect on constipation.

Verdict: Not guilty based on the evidence. There is not enough evidence at this time to charge cheese with causing constipation. If you have trouble with constipation, you may want to focus more on eating lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Beth Kitchin MS RD
Assistant Professor
Department of Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham


Sandler RS, Jordan MC, Shelton BJ. Demographic and dietary determinants of constipation in the US population. American Journal of Public Health. 1990;80:185-189.

Mykkanen HM, Karhunen LJ, Korpela R, Salminen S. Effect of cheese on intestinal transit time and other indicators of bowel function in residents of a retirement home. Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology. 1994;29:29-32.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

You Too Can Prevent Kidney Stones

This week, NPR broadcast an excellent story on how to avoid kidney stones. I was pleased to see that the reporter quoted a researcher whose work showed that eating and drinking dairy foods can actually lower your chances of getting a kidney stone. Other research studies over the past ten years have shown the same thing but few doctors have really picked up on this and still tell their patients to avoid milk, cheese, and yogurt if they've had kidney stones. Not only is avoiding milk bad news for your bones and blood pressure, cutting out milk doesn't lower your chances of forming stones.

We're not exactly sure just how milk lowers kidney stone formation but the belief is that the calcium in the milk binds with oxalates - natural phytochemicals in foods that can cause kidney stones. But the research does not show the same results with using calcium supplements. So I always recommend that my patient with a hisotry of stone formation get more of their calcium from milk and milk foods and not rely too heavily on calcium supplements. Eating a more plant based diet may also help you keep kidney stones away.

You can read the NPR story here: "This Too Shall Pass: Avoiding Kidney Stones Through Diet".

Beth Kitchin, MS, RD
Assistant Professor, Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Got Beer? Beer and Bone Health.

I just love “feel good” research – when a vice turns out to be good advice. Recently, a friend of my mother emailed me with a question about beer and bone health. She had read that some types of beer are high in silicon, which could help make the bones stronger. This of course begs the question: is beer the new milk? There’s already good evidence that moderate drinkers of any type of alcohol (one to two drinks a day or fewer) may have stronger bones. But what about beer and silicon specifically? Being a beer lover myself, I was intrigued and did a quick search of the scientific literature. Here’s what I found out:

  • Beer is a major source of silicon. Silicon may help bone formation.
  • While drinking moderate amounts of any type of alcohol can help the bones, beer and wine seem to have the most benefit.
  • Too much alcohol (more than 1 to 2 drinks a day) can make the bones weaker. A drink is generally defined as: 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, 1 ½ ounces of liquor.
  • Drinking too much also increases the likelihood of falling – increasing your chances of breaking a bone!
  • There’s no daily recommendation for silicon but the average intake is about 20-50 mg.
  • A recent study looked at how much silicon is in various types of beer. It ranged from 6 mg up to 56 mg. Ales, lagers, and IPA’s were the highest with IPA’s the highest of all. Why the difference among the brews? The more malt and hops, the more silicon. Wheat based beers are much lower in silicon since the silicon is higher in barley and hops.
So does this mean you should take up beer drinking for better health? The evidence is still lacking as to how much benefit you get and whether drinking beer lowers your chances of breaking a bone. But, if you like beer and keep it moderate – no more than one a day for the women and two for the men –you may be getting some bone building from this tasty beverage! I certainly won’t tell my patients to stop drinking beer as long as they do it safely.

As for me, I may have to do some personal research on this intriguing topic. Now which bar, I mean laboratory, should I use for my experiments?

Beth Kitchin MS RD
Assistant Professor of Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham


Tucker KL, Jugdaohsingh R, Powell JJ, Qiao N, Hannan MT, Sripanyakorn S, Cupples LA, Kiel DP. Effects of beer, wine, and liquor intakes on bone mineral density in older men and women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;89:1188096.

Casey TR, Bamforth CW. Silicon in beer and brewing. J Sci Food Agric. 2010;90:784-788.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Can You Drink Too Much Water?

It’s hot. You need to drink more water, right? Most of us do need more water at this time of the year but surprisingly you can drink too much. What happens when people drink too much water is that it dilutes out the sodium in the blood to a level that is too low. This very low level of blood sodium can cause nausea, vomiting, headaches, convulsions, and even the brain to swell. Some of these symptoms are the same as dehydration, which is also dangerous. So how do you know if you’re drinking enough, but not too much, water?

Water & fluid guidelines:

 Follow your thirst. Thirst is actually a pretty good indicator of whether or not you need fluids. An exception to this is older people who may not know their bodies need fluids & can become fluid deficient pretty quickly, particularly in hot weather.

 Drink fluids during activity. Whether you’re out walking, gardening, or running a marathon, you should drink fluids before & during activity – roughly 4 to 6 ounces every 20 minutes. You don’t need gallons of water during activity – which is where some people have gotten into trouble with over hydration.

 Weigh yourself after activity. If you sweat a lot during physical activity, you can lose a lot of water weight. Drink 16 ounces of water for every pound lost during exercise.

 Check your urine. When you are well hydrated, your urine should be pale to clear. This is the best way to tell if you have had enough water. Don’t drink excessive fluids beyond this. If your urine is dark or very small in volume, then you need more fluids!

 The 8-cups of water myth. While the average fluid lost from our bodies does turn out to be around 8 cups a day, you don’t need to replace all of it with plain old water. We get water replacement from fruits, vegetables, and other beverages such as milk, tea, soda, and yes, even coffee! However, water is the best fluid for boosting body fluids because it is absorbed the fastest of all the fluids!

Beth Kitchin MS RD
Assistant Professor, Nutrtion Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Sodas: Bad to the Bone?

Every Wednesday I teach a bone health education class at the UAB Osteoporosis Clinic. We serve lunch and yes, diet and regular cokes are among the drinks I make sure we have in plenty. The question then comes: “Beth, I can’t believe you’re serving us cokes? Aren’t they bad for the bones?”

This is a tough question to answer because the research is inconclusive. Carbonation has not been shown to harm bones so the bubbly part of the soda is not something to worry about. Too much caffeine can make you lose more calcium in the urine, but a typical caffeinate soda has about 50 mg of caffeine in 12 ounces. You’d have to be getting over 200 mg of caffeine a day for it to have an effect on your calcium loss so you can see that a can or two of caffeinated soda a day is no big deal. A cup of coffee has upwards of 100 mg of caffeine for a point of reference.

Some studies show that dark sodas may be related to lower bone strength and a higher chance of breaking a bone. But these studies are not the type that can show cause and effect. In other words, there are no studies that show that dark sodas directly cause bones to break or lower bone strength. What is it about dark sodas that may compromise your bone health? Some researchers think that the phosphorus in the sodas may be bad for bones. But other researchers disagree.

So what should you do? While I don’t think a can or two of coke or other dark soda a day is dangerous, you may want to think about switching to some healthier drinks such as milk and lightly sweetened tea. I had been drinking at least one diet coke a day and decided to drink more iced green tea sweetened with some lemonade concentrate – not because diet coke is bad for me but because tea is good for me. Sometimes we think about our diets as simply getting the bad stuff out. But we also need to think about getting more of the good stuff. Tea is natural and has some components in it that may actually be good for your bones.

Beth Kitchin, MS, RD
Assistant Professor, Department of Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham

Saturday, May 22, 2010

It's Fast But Is It Food?

Yesterday on my way back from Atlanta where I was giving a presentation on children and vitamin D, I stopped at Hardee’s for lunch. That’s a picture of my actual meal from yesterday after the first bite. I don’t eat fast food often but when I do, I relish it. My relationship with fast food is one of dependence and a grudging acknowledgment that it tastes good.  Yes, I actually like the taste of fast food despite being a foodie. I love the phony charred taste of the burgers, lackluster buns, and the fries shiny with grease.  At least I usually do.

Yesterday, after eating my 1/3 pound cheeseburger and curly fries, I didn’t get the same sense of satisfaction I usually do after a fast food meal. I sat down with great anticipation of this rare indulgent and  - nothing. The burger was fairly flavorless and the fries, though plenty curly and tasty, seemed to be missing something.  I left feeling full but at the same time, empty. Had my relationship with fast food changed? I could always count on it for a quick flavorful meal that felt indulgent and a little dangerous – as though I am testing the limits of my body to withstand the assault of cholesterol, fat and salt.  

But yesterday – nothing. No rush.  No great taste. No feeling of triumph that my body could withstand the onslaught of artery hardening, blood pressure pumping nutrients. And as I drove away, trying to analyze my experience, I realized that my disappointment wasn’t just that it didn’t taste as good as I remembered. It was my sneaking suspicion after all these years, that fast food isn’t real food. It’s as though it tricks us into thinking it’s food. But it’s really just a clever cloaked facsimile. Will I eat it again? Probably. Sometimes fast food is truly an act of desperation. But I won’t expect much the next time around.

Beth Kitchin, MS, RD
Assistant Professor, Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham 

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Research Studies That Need You and How To Find Them

I love it when something that makes sense happens. The National Institutes of Health has created something that makes a lot of sense. It’s called “Research Match”. Research Match is a website that matches people who are interested in being in a study with the researches who need them.

I work at teaching hospital/research university so people ask me all the time “are there any studies at UAB I can be in?” And I never know the answer because there are too many studies going on for me to keep up with. This is a scenario I am sure happens all over the country. Now my university – the University of Alabama at Birmingham – has joined with 51 other institutions across the country to take part in the NIH’s “Research Match”. All you have to do is visit: and register on their site. They’ll connect you with researchers in your area whose studies you may be want to join. Talk about a win/win that makes good sense!

Beth Kitchin, MS, RD
Assistant Professor, Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham

Sunday, May 9, 2010

For Best Results, Just Add Fat

If you snack on carrot sticks or use fat-free dressing on your salads, you’re probably not getting the health benefits you think you are.  Over the years, several studies have shown that the carotenoids – that family of disease fighters that includes beta-carotene and lycopene – need fat to be absorbed. The fat-soluble carotenoids don’t like to go it alone so dip your carrots in some regular or low-fat (but not non-fat) ranch dressing.  Add some cheese or nuts to that afternoon snack of baby carrots. Toss some avocado with your salad. It may be as little as 5 grams of fat that you need to get good absorption. That’s equal to about 1 teaspoon of fat or just a small handful of almonds. 

I think the deeper message here is that we are supposed to eat different foods together for the best results. I often hear of fad diets that tell you to separate out fruit from proteins. Or don’t mix carbs with meat. But it just doesn’t hold up to scientific scrutiny. Our bodies can easily handle mixtures of nutrients. Our intestinal tracts are marvels at orchestrating the vast array of chemical interactions that shuttle the nutrients from meals and snacks into our bloodstreams. There are even times when nutrients help each other out. For instance, getting a good source of vitamin C like sweet peppers or broccoli helps you to absorb a type of iron called “non-heme” iron.

So make the most of those healthy fruits and vegetables by adding in a bit of fat.

Beth Kitchin, MS, RD
Assistant Professor, Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Cocoa Roast: Two Great Tastes in One!

I love finding great tasting snack foods that have the added bonus of being healthy. Rare is the day that I can make through the afternoon without a snack. I’ve been getting a little tired of whole grain goldfish crackers or yogurt so I was thrilled to find these cocoa covered almonds aptly named “Cocoa Roast”.  Almonds and other nuts are high in unsaturated fats – that’s the good fat that lowers the bad cholesterol in the blood. Nuts are also an excellent source of magnesium – a nutrient that many of us don’t get enough of.  Diets high in magnesium can lower blood pressure and magnesium is one of the top three minerals in your bones.

Dusting the almonds with cocoa powder adds a delicious burst of chocolate flavor and also phytochemicals called “flavonoids”. Only dark chocolate  high in cocoa content has a lot of these flavonoids - you won’t find much in milk chocolate or “white chocolate”.  Research suggests that diets high flavonoids may lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol.

So if you like chocolate and almonds –give Cocoa Roasts a try. But be forewarned – portion control is tough. I use the lid of the container as snack bowl to keep my serving small – and yes, sometimes, I fill it up a second time!

Beth Kitchin, MS, RD
Assistant Professor, Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Quick and Tasty Salmon Salad

I get a lot if requests for recipes. The problem is that I rarely cook with recipes. I just go with what looks right and tastes good. I made this salmon salad out of a desperate need to eat wild Alaskan salmon that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. I’ve never been one for canned salmon – always preferring the fresh. So why not just buy farm raised salmon – which is much less expensive?

Farm raised salmon is more likely to be higher PCB’s (polychlorinated biphenyls) which are harmful to human health in multiple ways. PCB’s were banned in the 70’s. But because of past use and disposal, they’re still part of the environment – and part of our food chain. Farm raised salmon are higher in PCBs mainly because the food they are fed is high in other ground up fish that are high in PCB’s. Wild Alaskan salmon is much lower in PCB’s because their food sources and environment are lower in the contaminant.

The problem with eating wild Alaskan salmon regularly is the cost – often upwards of $14 a pound depending on where you shop. But canned wild Alaskan salmon is inexpensive and it’s still packed with healthy omega 3 fatty acids. I was never crazy about the taste of canned salmon until I concocted this recipe. Forgive me for not giving you exact amounts – just go with what looks and tastes right!

Beth’s Quick and Tasty Salmon Salad:
  • 1 6-ounce can wild Alaskan salmon – boneless and skinless (make sure you get boneless and skinless!)
  • 2 small (or 1 large) scallions finely chopped
  • Seasoning blend to taste (I like Morton’s “Nature’s Seasoning” – it’s a nice blend of salt, pepper, garlic, celery and other nice flavors. You can also use some salt, pepper, garlic and celery powder)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of Lemonaise (I use the Ojai Cook Lemonaise but you can use any good tasting mayonnaise – the lemon flavor adds a nice zing)
Just blend it all together in a bowl and you’re ready to go. You can eat it as is or put it atop a bed of salad greens.

Enjoy! Let me know if you have any good canned salmon recipes - I need some variations on this theme!

Beth Kitchin, MS, RD
Assistant Professor
Department of Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham

Sunday, April 4, 2010

6 Reasons to Eat Potatoes

I love potatoes. Unfortunately, I find myself defending them to people who believe they make you gain weight. How did this rumor get started? It all goes back to the low-carb craze and glycemic index. Glycemic index tells us that some foods make the blood sugar go up more than other foods. These foods are dubbed “high glycemic index foods”. When the blood sugar goes up, the hormone insulin kicks in. Insulin escorts the blood sugar into the body’s cells and brings blood sugar back down to normal. A spike in the blood sugar could also spike insulin. Too much insulin, the hypothesis goes, can make you fat.

However, there are some problems with this line of reasoning. White potatoes may have a high glycemic index. But how often do you eat a plain potato with nothing on it and no other foods along with it? Probably not very often. The other foods that you eat change the blood sugar effects of the potato. Meat, cheese, butter, sour cream, or other vegetables will lower the overall blood sugar effects. The bottom line is this: it does not make nutritional sense to avoid low calorie, nutrient-packed foods based on glycemic index alone.
Here are six good reasons to eat potatoes. Potatoes are:

1. High in Potassium. Diets rich in potassium help lower blood sugar and the risk of stroke. Potatoes beat out bananas when it comes to potassium. A baked potato with the skin has 850 mg of potassium while a banana has 450 mg. We need 3500 mg of potassium a day so eating potatoes makes lots of sense.

2. High in Vitamin C: A baked potato with the skin gives you a third of your daily need for vitamin C at 26 mg per serving.

3. High in Fiber: A medium baked potato with the skin has 5 grams of fiber. High fiber diets may lower your risk for heart disease.

4. A Good source of Magnesium: This hard-to-get mineral helps lower blood pressure and subsequently, the risk of stroke.

5. Fat Free: Potatoes are fat free leaving room to add some fat and flavor.

6. Inexpensive and easy to cook: Potatoes are really cheap and easy to prepare. The healthiest way to make them is baked or roasted. Scrub ‘em up and pop them in a hot oven for 45 minutes to an hour or microwave them. To roast them, just cut them up in wedges; brush some olive oil on them, season with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Be sure to eat the skin – that’s where a fair portion of the nutrients are. Plus, peeling potatoes is also needlessly time consuming.

It is fine to add some sour cream (which is actually lower in fat and calories than butter), a bit of cheese or butter, or some seasoning salt. Just be careful not to overdo it. You can also sauté up some mushrooms, low-fat smoked sausage, onions, garlic, or other veggies to add a lot of healthy flavor.

Beth Kitchin MS RD
Assistant Professor
UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Audacity of Baconnaise

Yesterday I stumbled upon Baconnaise on the internet. I’m not sure how or why. I had heard of Baconnaise – mainly from watching Jon Stewart eating it in a variety of combinations including pancakes and sausage. But I knew little about the product itself. So when I happened upon its website, I wondered, how bad could this stuff be? The name alone suggests an artery clogging, heart threatening menace. But upon reading the nutrition information, I found otherwise.
It turns out Baconnaise isn’t that much different than my beloved The Ojai Cook Lemonaise that I make a yummy salmon salad with at least once a week. It’s very low in saturated fat – only 1.5 grams per one tablespoon serving. That’s about 8% of the 20 gram a day limit. The cholesterol’s not that high either at 10 mg out of the 300 mg a day limit. The sodium is low as well at 85 mg of sodium out of the 2400 mg a day limit.

The moral of this story is don’t judge a food by its name. Always look at the label. I’m sticking with my Lemonaise for now but the next time I make a sausage and pancake sandwich, it’s Baconnaise all the way.
Beth Kitchin, MS, RD
Assistant Professor
UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences 

Friday, March 26, 2010

Negative Calorie Foods? We Wish!

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to eat foods that make you burn more calories than are in the food itself? You could eat to your heart’s content and lose weight while you’re at it. Google “negative calorie foods” and you’ll find “negative calorie diets” and lists of calorie burning foods. Usually these diets feature foods that are good for you like celery and grapefruit, so there’s no harm done if you try to outsmart your metabolism by eating them.

But do they really do what the claims promise? Possibly, but not likely. While proponents claim to have research studies that support the negative calorie premise, there isn’t any. I’ve seen some sites that claim that when you eat celery you burn up “a lot” more calories to process that celery. But the data is just not there. For most foods, it takes roughly 10% of the calories in that food to digest and absorb it. So to process that 6 calorie stalk of celery is probably costing you about 0.6 calories. Even if these foods do burn up extra calories, it would probably be an insignificant amount when it comes to actual weight loss.

Since most of the foods on “negative calorie” lists are fruits and vegetables, eating lots of them could help you lose weight. Here’s where the data is solid. Foods that weigh a lot (meaning high in water content) fill you up and so you eat less. Several research studies show that we eat about the same amount of food in weight every day. You may have seen the book Volumetrics. It’s based on this concept. Our own UAB EatRight weight loss program is based on this idea too. So if you eat heavy foods that are low in calories, you signal your body to feel full and satisfied on fewer calories.

The bottom line on negative calorie foods? This is one for The Journal of Wouldn’t It Be Nice? But Too Bad Because It Probably Isn’t.

Beth Kitchin, MS, RD
Assistant Professor
UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Why Can't I Lose Weight When I'm Doing Everything Right?

If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. You may be doing everything right – cutting back on calories, exercising, and patiently waiting week after week for just a few pounds to drop. Nothing. What gives? Actually, lots of things, particularly if you’re not in your 20’s or early 30’s anymore. Over the years research has slowly confirmed your hunch that losing weight really is harder than gaining weight. Here are just of few of the things that could be thwarting your weight loss efforts:
  •         Losing Muscle. Our muscles are calorie burning machines. This is why men can diet for a day and lose 5 pounds while we have to diet for a month to get the same results. Men have more muscle mass and burn more calories. As we get older, we lose muscle. Some of that loss is caused by less physical activity – but not all of it. Even a relatively inactive person in her 20’s will have more muscle than a fairly active 60 year old. After you reach adulthood, your calorie burning drops 2% each decade. If you’re inactive, it drops 5% each decade. The lesson? Keep that muscle mass up by exercising. Don’t just do cardio but add in some serious strength training with weights or exercise bands to keep your metabolic machinery in gear.
  •     Biological barriers. Your body may get more efficient at storing fat as you gain more weight. There’s an enzyme called LPL (lipoprotein lipase) that stores the fat you eat as body fat. LPL lives on the surface of your fat tissue so the more fat you have, the more LPL, and the more efficient you are at storing fat. There are other biological barriers to weight loss. Ghrelin, a hormone that triggers eating, may go up as you cut calories. While that seems strange, it seems to be an evolutionary holdover as your body tries to protect you from the famine!
  •     Genetics. Research is pretty solid in the area of genetics and weight.  There’s no doubt that your genetics influence your weight although it’s the combination of genes and a food laden environment that really set us up for obesity. It doesn’t mean there’s no hope. It does mean you may never get to a dream weight where you’re just not meant to be. The lesson here? Set realistic goals for weight loss. Toss out the charts that tell you where your weight should be and be realistic.
So what to do? This is the tough part and it’s probably all the stuff you’ve heard before:
  •     Stay the course. It may take more than a few weeks for your efforts to pay off.
  •      Keep a food record for a few days. A food record is one of the most useful tools getting a true picture of your eating habits and changing them.
  •     Avoid the temptation of extreme dieting.  Extreme diets and calorie cutting are tempting in times like these. Don’t fall for it – you’ll sacrifice short term satisfaction for long term misery.
  •      Reward behaviors not pounds lost. If the numbers on the scale make you feel bad, then only weigh yourself once or twice a month. Reward yourself for sticking to the plan, not for the pounds lost.
  •     Go easy on yourself. Realize that this is hard and it’s going to be slow.
  •      Get help. A registered dietitian can help you analyze what you’re doing and what you can change.
I met a woman a few years ago who told me that she lost one pound a year. That’s not a typo. She lost one pound a year. When I met her, it was twenty years later. She was twenty pounds lighter. Now that’s patience.
Beth Kitchin, MS, RD
Assistant Professor
UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences

Sunday, March 14, 2010

One for the Ladies? Women, Alcohol, and Weight Gain

Ladies – here’s one for us. A study published last week in the Archives of Internal Medicine gave us some good news: moderate drinking in middle aged women was associated with less weight gain as they got older. Just how much less weight? That’s where things are less impressive. The women who reported drinking no alcohol at all or up to one drink a month gained around 8 pounds over 13 years. The women who drank  lightly (up to one drink a week) gained about 6 ½ pounds in 13 years. The women who drank 1 to 2 drinks a day gained the least weight – about 5 ½ pounds over 13 years.

So the big difference between moderate drinkers and tee-totalers?  Less than 3 pounds on average.  I know. The headlines made it sound so much better.  I actually saw one headline that said that women who drink lose weight – talk about headline hype (and gross inaccuracy!).

A really important thing to understand is this study was an epidemiological study. In practical terms, that means it cannot show cause and effect – only associations. The study results do not show that alcohol causes less weight gain. All we can say is that the women in this study who drank moderately did not gain as much weight as the women who drank little to nothing. We can’t say why or if the alcohol had anything to do with it directly.

One thing we can say is that, despite our best efforts, many of us middle-aged women are in for some weight gain as we get older.  The women in this study started at healthy weights and were all in their late 30’s to early 40’s at the beginning of the study and in their 50’s by the end.  After 13 years, weight went up on average.  The good news is that if you are a moderate drinker, it may be related to less weight gain. I’ll drink (moderately) to that! 

Monday, March 8, 2010

Keep an Eye on the Serving Size.

I see my patients make this mistake all the time. They look at the calories, fat, protein, or calcium on a food label without first looking at the serving size. Why is looking at serving size so important? All of the numbers on that label – the fat, calories, protein, calcium, vitamin C, etc. – are for the serving size that is defined on the label. That serving size is not always realistic or what you actually eat.

One of my favorite lunches to take to work is Amy’s Enchiladas. They’re yummy and cheesy and I easily eat the whole package. But there are two servings in that whole package. So the 250 calories on the label is really 500 calories. Now that’s o.k. If I didn’t eat the whole package, I’d be starving by 3:00. The idea is that I want to know what I’m getting without being fooled. And who’s going microwave the container, eat half and then reheat the rest for lunch the next day? Not me.

Foods labels are not the only place that serving sizes can fool you. You’ve got to focus on the serving size on nutrition supplements like multivitamins and calcium supplements too.  Just last week, one of my patients thought she was getting 1800 mg of calcium from her supplements. The label said “Calcium 600 mg” and she was taking three tablets a day. However, the serving size was 2 tablets. So that 600 mg of calcium was for two tablets, not one. She was really getting 900 mg of calcium. Now it turns out that she only needed 900 mg of calcium from her supplements because she was getting the rest of what she needed from her diet, but the label was confusing.

So, always check the serving size first on both supplements (such as multivitamins, calcium supplements) and on your food labels. It’s not always what you would expect. This doesn’t mean you have to eat what they say a serving size is, just don’t let the numbers fool you!

Beth Kitchin, MS RD
Assistant Professor
UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Celebrate! It's National Nutrition Month!

I know that everybody's got a month. But this month really is special for the Nutrition Trends website. Our local Birmingham Dietetic Association polled its members, asking them for their top nutrition tips. We'll focus on one tip a week to celebrate the month.

This week's top tip is: Go Meatless Once a Week! You don't have to give up meat and become a vegetarian to get the benefits of eating less meat. Less meat, more phyto (plant) foods is a good health message for everyone - even meat lovers! To find out more about how a few meatless meals a week can help you, check out our column:  Meatless in America 

The first step to going meatless is finding recipes. This site has some great ones, especially for chili:

Have fun with your meatless meals and post you ideas for tasty meatless dishes!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Mood Food?

Could a diet make you happier? A neat study was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine late last year may help answer that question. Researchers took about 100 people who were overweight and randomly put them on either a low fat/high carbohydrate diet or a very low carbohydrate/high fat diet. If you're interested in the specifics about the study and the diets, go to our website:

What made this study so interesting was that the researchers looked at changes in the dieters' moods. After eight weeks, both groups of dieters experienced a positive boost in their moods. This initial boost was possibly caused by losing weight. But only the high carb dieters still had this mood boost after following the diet for a year. The average weight loss in each group was about the same - an average of 30 pounds.

I think you'll start seeing a lot more research in the area of food and mood. The study was not designed to figure out why the mood changes happened - only that they did. But it's interesting to take some guesses why the high carb dieters maintained their increase in positive mood for a year. Could it be that higher carbs boosted their serotonin levels? Serotonin is a brain chemical that can lower anxiety. Could it be that staying on a low carb diet for a long time is just depressing and difficult? The low carb dieters were only getting 4 to 8% of their calories from carbs. That's really low - equal to one or two slices of bread. Not all low carb diets sink to that level! Think about the foods that you would have to restrict to lower carbs that much - fruit, bread, rice, potatoes, cereal! Thanksgiving would not have been much fun.
So, this study adds to what little we know about food and mood. It also may make you think twice about going on a really low carb diet. You may want to eat some carbs to keep you - and those you love - happy!

Tell me what you think about this. Have you ever tried a really low carb diet? How did you feel on it?