Browsing Category: health/nutrition info

Yes, sugary drinks interact with weight-related genes (and how to kick the pop habit)

This AP photo shows how many cubes of sugar are in popular soft drinks.
The Associated Press reports that “A huge, decades-long study involving more than 33,000 Americans has yielded the first clear proof that drinking sugary beverages interacts with genes that affect weight, amplifying a person’s risk of obesity beyond what it would be from heredity alone.” Full story here.
Are you hooked on pop? Here’s a “baby steps” approach to weaning yourself off the sweet stuff. Try taking one or two weeks to adjust to each step.
  1. Switch to diet pop, same amount. Update, 9/28/12: If you have a serious sugar addiction, you may need to do this step in phases. See this article for info about sugar withdrawal symptoms and how to manage them.
  2. Replace one pop a day with coffee, tea or juice. No added sugar or artificial creamers. You may use other sweeteners. Do some research and experimentation to find a sweetener that you feel is healthy, and that doesn’t cause any troubling side effects for you. 
  3. Continue replacing servings until you are off pop completely.
  4. Replace one drink a day with water or green tea. Flavor with real fruit or a splash of juice, if you want. (Note: if you’re going off of coffee or strong tea, you’ll need to do the replacement slowly to avoid caffeine withdrawal symptoms such as headaches and sluggishness.)
  5. Continue replacing until water is all you drink all day (with fruit, if you like). Or green tea till 3 pm; water after.

Kicking the sugar habit? Here’s the most important thing to know.

Kicking the sugar habit - sugar monster, or sugar dragon

Sugar really can be quite addicting.  Dr Eric Stice has famously said, “Sugar activates the brain similar to the way cocaine reacts”. I think that those who call it “toxic” are going overboard, though. As Dr. David L. Katz says, “the dose makes the poison.” And Americans are definitely over-dosing. On average, American adults eat about 100 pounds of sugar a year. (Source.)

(Click these links for some stunning graphics showing how much sugar and corn syrup the average American consumes in a day, week, month, year and lifetime. Care for a dip in a hot-tub full of corn syrup, anyone?)

I was diagnosed with hypoglycemia in high school, so I was trained early on to stay away from or at least go easy on sugar, but later in life, I got a little sloppy with it. Eventually, between my weight gain, migraines, and moods, I finally realized that I needed to get back to that super-cautious approach to sugar.

Here’s a short video by “Mama Natural” with some tips for kicking the white stuff:

I especially want to note this point that she mentions in passing:

Eating sugar creates craving for more sugar.

Understanding this made a big difference for me. Before I realized this, I might indulge in some sweets a few times a week because, hey, a little now and then isn’t that bigga deal, right? But the sweet itself isn’t the only cost: it can kick off bigger cravings one or two hours later, and depending on your vulnerability, those cravings might last for days. As I’ve made clear before, I do believe in the occasional indulgence for very special occasions. But when I do, I know I’ve got to get back on the no-sugar horse the very next day and tough out the cravings until they subside.

The great thing is, the reverse is also true. The more you stay off of sugar and other white carbs, the more your cravings will subside. The first week or two is gonna be tough, but after that it gets lots, lots easier. If you are physically addicted to sugar, you may need to do a slower withdrawal in order to manage bothersome side effects. For more info, see this article on how to get through sugar withdrawal.

So if you’re trying to punt the sugar monster, hang in there! You’ll be glad you did!

* Find Just Me(gan)’s blog at

10 snacks you thought were healthy — but aren’t


Bon Appetit recently published a list of snacks that have a “health food aura” about them, but are either not all that great for you, or are downright unhealthy.

Granola. Eye the ingredients, and pay attention to the carb-protein ratio, and the amount of fiber. Some of these are really no better than sugar-coated cereal.

Smoothies. If not made at home with wholesome ingredients, these are usually sugar- and calorie-bombs.

Low-fat cheese. This is interesting: a study out of Harvard has identified a natural substance in dairy fat — yes, fat — that may substantially reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Fat-free salad dressing. These are almost always crammed with extra sugar and/or corn syrup to make up for the texture and flavor lost to fat. Once you make your own salad dressings, you’ll be amazed at how easy it is and you’ll never go back to store-bought! A few of my faves:
Creamy balsamic vinaigrette (This page also includes the easiest recipe ever: 1-2-3 Dressing.)
Ginger-peanut dressing
Almost-Panera’s Asian dressing
– Easy Tex-Mex: equal amounts of Greek yogurt and salsa, then a bit of taco seasoning – easy and delish! See my make-ahead Tex-Mex salad.

Rice cakes. Fairly void of any decent nutrients, they’re really just empty calories. Chocolate or cinnamon ones are just empty calories with sugar added.

Pretzels. Proof that “fat free” doesn’t equal healthy. They’re basically white bread with an egg wash and a bunch of salt.

Veggie burgers. They sound inherently healthy, but frozen veggie burgers can contain more processed filler ingredients and sodium than actual vegetables or beans.

Diet sodas. Sweeteners may increase sugar or carbohydrate cravings, and if consumed in great quantity, may actually impact weight gain.

Others on the list: Bran muffin. Whole-wheat wrap. (See the original article.)

See my lists of ways to sneak healthier choices into your snacks and meals.

When “Sugar Free” isn’t

I don’t normally buy Cool Whip. It’s not that I’m a food snob (okay, I kinda am), but mostly that A) whipped cream is not that hard to make, B) I trust whole food over manufactured food, and C) whipped cream tastes better!
But today I was making some lemon cheesecake desserts (the lemon version of my lime cheesecake shooters) to take to a shower tomorrow, but because of scheduling issues, they have to be done tonight. Whipped cream won’t last that long. So I decided to go with Cool Whip for the topping, since it’s very stable.
I grabbed a tub of the fluffy stuff — the “Sugar Free” version — and headed home. Then I read the label.
First ingredient: water. Second ingredient: corn syrup.
Are you kidding me?! It has corn syrup, and you’re calling it sugar free? Is this even legal?
(The Harvard School of Public Health includes corn syrups on its list of added sugars in disguise. Corn syrup has been proven to raise triglycerides even more than and faster than sugar.)
Lesson learned: Always read the label — before you leave the store!

Eat your oatmeal, get diabetes


Okay, I confess. That headline is a bit of an exaggeration.

Unless you’re eating a sugared-up, ground fine, instant oatmeal for breakfast every day, and not balancing out those 32 grams of carbs with an equal amount of protein — say, a half a dozen eggs, or five slices of Canadian bacon. Then it’s very little exaggeration at all.

Yeah, I hear ya. “But I thought oatmeal was health food!” Maybe some oatmeal, prepared certain ways, but this stuff?

Still doubtful? Check this out: 43 grams of “Strawberries and Cream” instant oatmeal and 40 grams of Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies have the same amout of carbs, and about the same amount of sugar:
1 packet of Quaker Oats Maple & Brown Sugar instant oatmeal has:
157 calories
2 grams of fat
4 grams of protein
32 grams of carbohydrate ( incl 3 g fiber & 13 g added sugar)
Similar in macronutrient profile to:
4 Twizzlers, or
2 Fat Free Fudgesicle bars, or
a York Peppermint Patty.

And this stuff? Don’t even get me started! This is candy disguised as health food!
I have a very personal reason for being so passionate about this.
My mom had/has Type 2 Diabetes, which some studies suggest doubles one’s chances of developing Alzheimer’s. Which my mom also has.
For years she followed the low-fat diet recommended by the Diabetes Association: a bowl of oatmeal, wheat toast, orange juice and coffee. And she took her blood sugar medicine as prescribed.
Once, when I fed her breakfast, I gave her two eggs, whole wheat toast and water for breakfast. As usual, she took her meds.
Not too long afterwards, she started feeling weepy and strange — “Just not right. Something is wrong.” Because she had had a fall the day before, I took her back to the ER. After a few tests, the nurse tested her blood sugar. “Oh my!” she said. “There’s the problem.” Her blood sugar was 40. Normal is 65-104
what seemed to be going on here was that when she ate the low fat, high carb breakfast she thought was healthy, it would throw her blood sugar into overdrive. When she ate a balanced breakfast, she either needed less med, or didn’t need the med at all. I often wonder if my she had had a better understanding of carbs, sugars, insulin and health, if she could have avoided the “A word.” It’s too late for her, but…
You still have time: Kick the corporate food! Shop in the produce section, buy lean meat, educate yourself about health! (Here’s a good place to start.)
(I’m indebted to HealthHabits and BalancedBites for the inspiration, some of the content and the first image in this post.)