Blog Posts by Dr. Ayala

  • The latest on sugary drinks, heart health and weight loss

    There's little question that sugary drinks are not just randomly associated with obesity, but actually contribute to it in a big way. Dozens of studies continue to prove this point, and the only so-called "research" that tries to introduce doubt to this sad conclusion is industry-sponsored.

    Nevertheless, this accumulated evidence is seeping in quite slowly into consumers' consciousness. The average American still takes in more than a fifth of their daily calories from beverages . Perhaps constant, very effective and entertaining advertising (yeah, I do love these ads; they're the major Super Bowl viewing attraction for me-but don't tell my kids!) weighs heavier on our minds than evidence and medical advice.

    I'm therefore glad to see further evidence presented about the effects of sugary drinks on health, and that leading institutions and scientific bodies are devoting their pulpit to the important public health issue of overhauling in the way we drink.

    So here's a

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  • Do Sumo Wrestlers Skip Breakfast?

    I've heard this factoid many times: Sumo wrestlers' diet regimen includes skipping breakfast, in order to gain more weight and achieve morbid obesity.

    Is it true? Does skipping breakfast really make you fat?

    Apparently up to a third of teenagers skip breakfast regularly. Whether they do it to loose weight or because of circumstances, it's not a good habit.

    As much as I enjoy backing the advice I give my kids with scientific studies, I think that you don't need to prove that eating breakfast before going to school is important. Going to school on an empty stomach just doesn't make sense. Hunger interferes with learning, and I try to feed my kids as many of their meals at home as possible, as I assume that whatever they'll eat out of home will be nutritionally inferior to what I carefully prepare or select. Sensible eating habits are important, and key to preventing nutritionally caused conditions such as obesity.

    So even if the studies said otherwise, I'd look for

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  • Beware of the Cherry Trees

    This is a photo of my Magnolia tree. It has reached the point of no return -- the blossoms are ready to open into the most spectacular floral display, and I'm constantly checking the weather forecast, worried about the possibility of late spring frost.

    It's an old tree, probably more than 60 years old, and has no doubt delighted several generations, each of them watching the buds with anticipation, from early fall when they first appear, through the short days of winter, and finally into the warmer weather of spring, and the return of pollinators.

    We lose the joy of seeing the tree in bloom quite often. Last year we had snow in April that turned the blossoms brown, and I had to fight my sinking mood during those days. I wish I had a blanket for my tree for those frosty nights, but the tree is taller than my house, and there's precious little I can do besides hope. The blooms are delicately fragrant, but after the petals shower down they carpet the back lawn, sweetly decomposing,

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  • Vegans, vegetarians, diets and health-part 2

    I'm devoting this weeks' post to the current knowledge of the health effects of a vegetarian diet after discussing the vegan diet's health effects in a post a fortnight ago.

    The term vegetarian is quite broad, but for simplicity's sake we'll define vegetarians as those who avoid meat, fish/seafood and poultry, and do eat milk and eggs. It's estimated (by a Harris Interactive poll) that 2.8 percent of the American population is vegetarian.

    Much has changed in attitudes towards vegetarian lifestyles in the past decades. As a lifelong vegetarian, the first question I used to get was "Where do you get your protein?" The answer to this question is simple: Contrary to popular myth, plants--especially pulses (peas, beans and lentils), nuts, seeds and grains--have plenty of protein. Animal protein is considered a complete protein, meaning it has all essential amino acids in every bite. We now know that incomplete proteins can be stored in the body for many days to be combined with

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  • A kitchen garden for a healthy body, mind and spirit

    Foodies and gardeners were ecstatic to hear that Michelle Obama started an organic edible garden on the south lawn of the White House last week. Maria Shriver, California's first lady, also announced that she plans to establish an edible garden at Capitol Park in Sacramento.

    Millions of Americans have started private and community plots with the intent of growing their own food. Seed sales are up, and it seems like everyone's ready to dig in the dirt.

    Hooray! I'm pretty sure that every gardener is enriched by working the garden, and we can all learn a lot about good food by growing some of it ourselves.

    Since I'm sick of hearing about the recession and pinching pennies, I promise I'll be discussing the many benefits of gardening besides saving money. (In fact, I think you need to be quite clever to save money growing your own veggies in the first few years of your gardening adventure-read William Alexander's " The $64 tomato " for one honest and hilarious gardener's take on

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  • Snacks, snacking and snackers

    The influence of snacking on the development and maintenance of obesity is likely.

    'Snack' doesn't have a unique definition though.

    One definition centers on when and how the food is eaten, i.e., if it's eaten in between meals, it's a snack, or if it's eaten quickly, it's a snack.

    The other definition centers on what you eat: A snack is a small portion, can be high quality (apple) or low quality (chips)

    What's clear is that more and more of us are snackers. A snacker is someone who consumes more than 20% of his calories as snacks. Reports show that most of our school age kids are snackers, and consume more than 30% of their calories from snacks, though since there's no clear definition of what it means to snack I'm not sure what this means.
    I'll try to be specific and clear despite the ambiguity.

    Eating in between meals, on the go, eating something fast: Eating this way is so much our way of life, that I don't know how much of it we can change. Provided the

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  • User Post: Vegans, vegetarians, diets and health

    I've stated in my short bio here that I've been a lifetime vegetarian, and many assume that vegetarianism is part of my "healthy lifestyle" philosophy. Well, it is and it isn't.

    Let's start with a few common definitions--these definitions of course fall short of describing the full range of dietary practices of those who restrict animal products from their plate, and there are many variations not covered by these rather simplistic definitions.

    Vegetarians exclude meat and fish from their diet but do eat dairy and eggs. Vegans exclude all animal products, including meat, fish, dairy and eggs. The terms "vegetarian" and "vegan" are not interchangeable from the nutritional science point of view; the two diets are quite dissimilar.

    Vegetarians and vegans choose to abstain from animal products for a variety of diverse reasons, ranging from health advantages and environmental priorities, to ethical and cultural considerations. Vegetarians and vegans tend to consume more

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  • Is Organic Food Healthier?

    I support the organic movement and started buying organic food as soon as organic alternatives were available to me. I will gladly pay more for an organically produced food item.

    For the sake of full disclosure--I'm involved with an organic product that recently earned the organic seal. The long process made me even more respectful of the certifying agencies and the seal.

    As I studied the subject more carefully, I became more and more convinced that eating and buying organic isn't just about maintaining your own health; it's about political change and doing something for the greater good.

    I think that the first, selfish motivation is quite clear. Conventional food is grown using a multitude of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. We now know that these remain in the food, and are absorbed by and present in our body. Although conventional growers and food producers make every effort to convince us that these chemicals are safe and harmless in these amounts,

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  • The allure of forbidden food

    In his book "Ending the Food Fight" Dr. David Ludwig writes:

    "Consider this: no species of mammal in nature allows its young to eat whatever they want. What would happen if a bear mother didn't teach its cub what and how to eat? The cub wouldn't survive the winter. Our modern nutritional environment can be as dangerous to children as an arctic winter is to a bear cub."

    We want what's best for our kids, but how to best influence your kids' eating habits is a fine art with no clear answers. It would have been easier if kids got the same message of reason and moderation wherever they go, but most parents can provide no more than an island of sensible eating in a sea of marketing messages and opportunities to overeat all the wrong foods.

    I believe in the importance of good parental role modeling regarding food choices; we have to watch what and how we eat not only for our own well-being, but because our kids are watching!

    I also personally believe that we as parents have

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  • Do cooked vegetables have lower nutritional quality?

    Food goes through a chemical transformation when subjected to heat. New flavors arise, some of the fresh flavors disappear and the color and texture change.

    A common belief is that when cooked, vegetables, fruit and herbs lose their nutritional value.

    The answer to this question will surprise you, but it is not a simple answer.

    Plant food is very complex.

    Plants build themselves out of water, minerals and air, using the sun as their energy source. Out of these simple building blocks plants synthesize a tremendous amount of different molecules, amongst them are the vitamins, phytochemicals, antioxidants (some of which are vitamins, but most are not) and pigments. Although food science has been exploring plants for a while we still know little about the hundreds of different molecules in every whole plant, how they work in synergy, and how they interact with the human body.

    Consider the tomato. It is very tasty fresh. When cooked, a tomato gains more flowery notes,

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