Blog Posts by Dr. Ayala

  • Is eating well more expensive?

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    As affordable as eating unhealthy

    When I was a teen, and first discovered nutrients, calories and the inconvenience of looking up foods on endless nutrition charts (no internet, no nutrition label - remember those days?) I would imagine a simpler scheme: If only food could be priced according to caloric content. If each calorie would cost, let's say, 1 cent, a person aiming at 2000 calories a day would keep within his caloric upper limit as long as he spends no more than $20 a day on food.

    This is of course a particularly silly idea, as the caloric content of food has absolutely nothing to do with the factors that determine its price, and even in an ideal world it wouldn't be feasible to make 100 calories of black truffles cost the same as 100 calories of canola oil.

    It was then that I realized that in the real world an inverse correlation between price and caloric content is all too common.


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  • Report: Kids bombarded with ads for unhealthy fast food meals

    Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity released a new report today. It's the most comprehensive study of fast food nutrition and marketing ever conducted, and its conclusions aren't pretty.

    Kids are seeing more fast food ads than ever, across a variety of media including TV, radio, websites, phone apps and Facebook. What these ads help sell is mostly high-calorie, high-sugar and high-salt food with unhealthy defaults as the side dish, and the promises made regarding improving meal content are largely window dressing. Yes, it is now possible to order healthier fast food options, but it isn't easy -- the healthier options comprise just 17 percent of the menu, and aren't promoted in the way the unhealthy choices are.

    From the report's summary (emphasis is mine):

    The research is clear: Consuming fast food endangers young people's health. Young people who eat fast food consume more calories, fat, sugar, and sugar sweetened beverages, and less fiber, milk, Read More »from Report: Kids bombarded with ads for unhealthy fast food meals
  • Lunchrooms designed for healthy eating

    Could lunchroom design drive better nutrition? Brian Wansink, Co-Director of the Cornell Center of Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs and author of "Mindless Eating", presented proof that it can, and shared some tried and true, low-cost healthy-eating-promoting ideas for school lunchrooms at the School Nutrition Association's New York conference recently. Here are a few of the environmental changes he suggested, all of which have been shown to affect eating habits and preferences:

    • Decreasing the size of bowls from 18 ounces to 14 ounces reduced the size of the average cereal serving at breakfast by 24 percent.
    • Creating a speedy "healthy express" checkout line for students not buying calorie-dense foods like desserts and chips, doubled the sales of healthy sandwiches.
    • Moving the chocolate milk behind the plain milk led students to buy more plain milk.
    • Keeping ice cream in a freezer with a closed opaque top significantly reduced the amount of
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  • Halloween Rice

    Black rice with butternut squashBlack rice with butternut squashIt is the season for black and orange, and I can't resist this occasion for sharing with you my favorite rice: black rice. Oh, how I love this dark, fragrant whole grain. In this dish I combine black rice with orange butternut squash. Orange is the color that epitomizes harvest and fall, and black and orange do work wonders on the eye.

    Halloween is just around the corner. Try this dish for the pre-Halloween dinner. In my home we eat dinner before trick-or-treat. Sadly enough, my kids don't take me along anymore; I stay home and clear the dishes. My junk-on-Halloween philosophy is eat-whatever-you-want on October 31st but Halloween is just one day. We used to picnic on a cushy pile of leaves under our favorite tree at the end of the evening, picking out the best of the loot. The rest - I feel a little uncomfortable admitting this - we threw away. I think that eating a sack full of candy for weeks to come is a bit much, and I try not to have junk-a-plenty at home. And while I hate

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  • Mediterranean diet cuts risk of chronic diseases

    Med diet pyramid

    Pleasure, practicality and healthfulness-the Mediterranean diet is one of these recipes for a good life that have it all.

    A new, updated meta-analysis combined the findings of many prospective studies, pooling more than 2 million people, and looked to see whether sticking to a Mediterranean diet was associated with protection from chronic diseases and a longer, healthier life.

    The answer is a resounding yes! Adherence to a Mediterranean eating style seems to offer significant defense from heart disease and cancer and to improve overall health. And there's more.

    Mediterranean style diet, what is it and how do we measure adherence to it?

    The Mediterranean diet isn't really a specific diet, but more of an eating style, traditionally followed by the people living in the countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. The eating pattern is characterized by high consumption of fruit, vegetables, herbs, spices, legumes and complex carbohydrates, moderate consumption of

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  • Sleep Yourself Thin?

    "A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor's book." ~Irish Proverb

    Eat fewer calories and exercise more - that's the age old recipe for weight-loss - and the rest is gimmicks. But a new study suggests that we should perhaps add one more element to the regime: Get a good night's sleep.

    Sleep is one of the central pillars of good health. Sleep is absolutely critical to keeping us sane and happy. Yet we don't give sleep as much respect as it deserves.

    Several studies have shown a link between obesity and lack of sleep, but the association by itself doesn't give much of a clue as to which came first and doesn't prove causality. Obesity can cause sleep problems (the most serious of which is obstructive sleep apnea). Being awake at night can increase appetite and night-time-snacking (usually the worst kind of junk), and sleep deprivation can lead to poor food choices and inactivity.

    But this new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine isolated the

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  • User Post: Reply to a young reader -- Is fast food evil?

    I read every email and every comment I get from you, dear readers, but I can only wish I could reply to each and every one of them. Many times I have nothing clever to add to the conversation beyond what's already in the post and in the comments, and quite frankly, I just have a hard time keeping up.

    But I do hope I never miss a chance to reply to young readers who want to know more about nutrition.

    A middle-school student from California recently asked me for an email interview about fast-food (I'm not sharing her name to protect her privacy). I thought her questions (and my replies) are worth sharing.

    Q. In your opinion, what fast-food restaurant would you say is the least healthy? Please Explain.

    A. All fast food restaurants serve highly processed foods, and serve food that is high in calories, high in fat (especially worrisome are the trans-fats) high in sugar and salt, and low in fruits and vegetables (French fries are not a vegetable). It would be unwise for me

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  • Fatter, in all the wrong places

    The fact that the majority of Americans are overweight isn't any news. But here's a worrisome new finding: The extra padding we've added as a population has accumulated in the worst location for our health - our belly - and even people with normal weight seem to be getting wider waistlines.

    A new study led by Helen Walls in the research journal Obesity looked at trends of both BMI and waist circumference, comparing the data of two US national surveys, one held in 1988-1994, and the other in 2005-2006. Overall, the study looked at the measurements of almost 20,000 nationally representative adults, and found that bellies expanded disproportionately during the decade and a half studied.

    Short intro to BMI and waist circumference:

    BMI (body mass index) is a screening measure for overweight, useful for studying populations, and calculated by dividing the weight in kilograms by the square of height in meters. It doesn't differentiate between fat and muscle, but BMI correlates

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  • Want your kids eat healthy? Teach them how to cook

    Fruit and vegetables 002

    I started teaching my kids how to cook as soon as they showed the slightest interest. My first kitchen adventure with them involved making a good green salad, and included the basics of how to wash and dry lettuce, and the simple principles of mixing a good salad dressing. The second lesson's product was a nice bowl of lightly salted edamame in their shell, which my kids still think of as "addictive food".

    I didn't get into brownies and cupcakes until much later. I figured that creating a dish makes its creator treasure it, and why waste a lesson of love on brownies, which any kid's bound to fancy anyway.

    In his new book The Upside of Irrationality Dan Ariely, professor of behavioral economics, devotes a chapter to the well know phenomenon of falling in love with the things we make, and the irrational value we attribute to the objects we had a more intimate relationship with. Ariely titles the chapter "the IKEA effect"- the Swedish maker's assemble-it-yourself shelf

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  • Back to school with a healthy lunch

    I hope you all had a great summer, and a happy new school year to all!

    As kids go back to school it's a good time to take a good look at another aspect of their school days: What our kids eat at school, and which steps we can take to improve their nutrition, eating habits and food enjoyment this year.

    Start with breakfast

    It's quite intuitive and common sense that children should eat breakfast before they leave home in the morning. Research has also shown that children who skip breakfast don't do as well in school as students who do, and tend to actually be heavier than breakfast eaters.

    Yet many kids skip breakfast, and up to a third of teenagers skip breakfast regularly.

    Whatever the kids eat at the breakfast table is better than no breakfast at all, but I'd recommend whole grain cereal, oatmeal or bread, a protein such as cheese, peanut butter or an egg, and fruit. Whole fruit, by the way, is much better than fruit juice.

    I do not see pastries such as donuts

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