Blog Posts by Dr. Ayala

  • User post: A healthy farewell to winter


    Carot ginger miso soup 012

    I meant to share a recipe earlier in the winter, and here we are with the exuberance of spring unfolding, the days getting longer and the joys of fresh produce coming back to the gardens and markets. So I'd better hurry up and offer my ginger carrot and miso soup-a delicious way to transition from winter to spring-before it gets too warm.

    You're going to love this soup! Not only is it colorful and full of flavor; it's also really easy to make.

    Miso is a staple in my home. It's a traditional Japanese seasoning produced by fermenting soybean, rice or other grains with salt and a fungus (koji). The result is a thick paste-the consistency of peanut butter-that's rich in protein, vitamins and minerals. Miso has a unique flavor best described as salty, sweet, earthy, fruity, and savory (umami).

    There are many types of miso; they differ in ingredients, fermentation process and saltiness and range in color from white to dark brown. The lighter miso pastes are milder and

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  • Michelle Obama to food makers: Make healthier food, now

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    First Lady Michelle Obama gave some tough love to the food industry last week.

    In her remarks at the Grocery Manufacturers Association meeting in Washington D.C. last week Mrs. Obama was tactful, diplomatic and generous with praise for the advances already made by food makers.

    Yet, she didn't shy away from criticism, and explicitly described some of food makers' obesogenic practices.

    I'm going to peel away the praise, and serve just her between-the-lines reprimands, since I think that's where we'll find the bigger and most important messages.


    You put stuff in our food that helps your sales yet undermines our health

    • "We all know that human beings-I, for one, know-are hard-wired to crave sugary, fatty, salty foods. And it is tempting to take advantage of that-to create products that are sweeter, richer, and saltier than ever before."

    • "But doing so doesn't just respond to people's natural inclinations-it also actually helps to shape them. And this can
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  • Want milk? Lactose intolerance shouldn’t stop you

    Milk 003

    Are most Americans lactose intolerant? Do all dairy products contain lactose? How critical is it to stick to a lactose-free diet?

    Although most of us know someone who is lactose intolerant, and "lactose intolerance" frequently comes up in health-related conversations, there are many myths and misconceptions regarding this common digestive issue. I'd like to take a look at this malady and at the findings of a recent National Institutes of Health (NIH) consensus conference on lactose intolerance, where experts in many medical fields pored over the relevant medical literature, discussed findings and developed a state-of-the-science statement that includes a few surprises.

    (This post is about the common form of lactose intolerance-primary lactose intolerance-and is not about lactose intolerance that arises from illness or intestinal injury, or the rare cases of babies born unable to digest lactose.)


    Lactose and lactose intolerance

    Chemistry moment (this won't take

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  • Misleading health claims finally under fire

    Immunity cereal

    Is the health claim party coming to an end?

    This past week, the Food and Drug Administration released 17 letters of warning to food manufacturers whose product claims don't adhere to federal labeling rules. FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, MD, also sent an open letter to the industry, encouraging food makers to rid their labels of misleading and downright bogus claims, and be part of the effort to make food labels a tool consumers can use to improve their nutrition and make healthier choices. (She of course said it in a much nicer way.)

    The letters targeted mainly companies making unauthorized health claims and nutrient-content claims.

    Please bear with me while we go through the different types of label claims; I promise it's going to make you a more informed consumer:

    • A health claim describes a relationship between a food or food component and a disease, and it must be pre-approved by the FDA . There are currently slightly more than a dozen of these Read More »from Misleading health claims finally under fire
  • 3 healthy habits to fight childhood obesity

    One in three American kids is overweight or obese. Many of our kids start accumulating extra weight-or develop the habits that will lead to weight gain later on-in very early childhood, setting them up for a lifelong struggle with both weight and a multitude of chronic diseases.

    But many parents don't pay much attention to obesity prevention advice; they don't believe it's relevant to their kids. They're more focused on making sure their kids develop well, and they're the last to notice when their kid puts on the pounds. And of course everybody hates "eat less" type of advice.

    That's why obesity-fighting tactics that aren't directly related to what to put on kids' plates have the potential of being successful.

    A recent study in Pediatrics examined the association between childhood obesity and three household routines-regularly eating dinner as a family, getting enough sleep, and limiting TV-time-and found that 4-year-olds exposed all three routines had about a 40 percent

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  • The recipe for a long and healthy life

    Do you want to live to 100?

    For most of us, a long and well-lived life sounds rather tempting. So what can we do to get as much out of life as we can, for as long as we can?

    It turns out we know some important things about what influences longevity; there's even a fun game online that will estimate how old you'll live to be. All you have to do is answer 40 quick questions related to your health and family history and a calculator (at the end of this post) will do the rest.

    I'm not of course making light of issues of life and death; I call this calculator a game only to emphasize that we can't really know our destiny.

    On the other hand, this calculator, designed by Boston University Medical School geriatrician Thomas Perls, can teach us quite a lot about what science knows-and doesn't know-about what influences longevity. It also offers some excellent health and nutrition advice. Dr. Perls is head of the New England Centenarian Study and is following some 1500 people,

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  • Jamie Oliver's wish: Teach every kid about food


    Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver recently received the prestigious TED Prize, an annual award given to a speaker at the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Conference, which entitles the speaker to one wish that can change the world and $100,000 as down payment for the magic wand.


    Jamie's wish: "I wish for your help to create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity."


    This is a wish that can come true--I truly believe that. We all have the power to help make Jamie's wish a reality--for our own sake.

    You can jump right in and sign Jamie's petition.
    You can take a look at Jamie's plan and needs and see if you can offer assistance.
    Or maybe just have your Jamie Oliver moment with your own family tonight: I'll be teaching my kids another simple, nutritious dish they can cook by themselves when they come home from school.

    One of the "TED

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  • ”Let’s Move” to reform school food

    Obama-lets-move

    School food received some major media attention in the past week.

    Michelle Obama launched the Let's Move anti-obesity campaign last Tuesday, with improving school food as a major program cornerstone. Congress will reauthorize the Childhood Nutrition Act this year-with some planned overhauls and budget proposals underway. And the Obama administration wants Congress to remove sugary snacks and drinks from school vending machines.

    Say what? The federal government is trying to limit big food's footprint in our schools?

    If Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack gets his way, he intends to do just that: "Food served in vending machines and the a la carte line shouldn't undermine our efforts to enhance the health of the school environment," he said.


    A short introduction to school food

    On any school day more than 30 million kids eat a school lunch and 10 million kids eat a school breakfast. Fifty-nine percent of the kids eating a school lunch are from low-income homes,

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  • 10 healthy cooking tips for great flavor with less salt

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    I devoted last week's post to salt, and to the fact that we consume, to our detriment, two-to-three times our recommended daily upper limit of salt. The bulk of this excess intake comes unnoticed and hidden in processed and restaurant (especially fast-food restaurant) foods.

    The best way to deal with our salt overload is to minimize highly processed foods in our diet. (To be honest, if salt were the only issue with these highly processed foods I wouldn't get so excited. Not everyone becomes hypertensive, and not every hypertensive person is sensitive to salt, but it so happens that salt is just one more reason, among dozens, to move on from processed foods to a better place.)

    The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends we consume "less than 2,300 mg (approximately 1 teaspoon of salt) of sodium per day." For African Americans, older people or people with hypertension the advice is to consume no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day.

    Now, if you're cooking at

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  • Just a pinch of salt for health

    Salt for blog

    World Salt Awareness Week starts today, and it's the perfect time to look at salt and health.

    Salt runs in the veins of language. There are reminders everywhere of salt's former glory. The word "salary" is derived from salt (Roman soldiers were paid in salt), and salt is at the root of "sauce", "salsa" and "salad".

    Ancient wars were waged over the control of salt.

    Today, a modern war on salt-salt reduction-is looming in the horizon. And for good reason.

    While salt is a dietary mineral we can't live without, most of us take in two or three times the daily recommended upper limit of salt. Extra salt is typically sneaking into our meals unnoticed through processed and restaurant foods-and too much salt threatens the health of many people.

    Recently, New York City's mayor Michael Bloomberg announced an initiative encouraging food manufacturers and restaurant chains to reduce salt in their products by 25 percent over the next five years.

    His call joins the

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