The Expanding Circle

…health, the environment, and social justice…

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Meta

Posts Tagged ‘nutrition’

Say No to Animal Gifting Hunger Organizations

Posted by tinako on March 13, 2014

I have no problem recounting statistics about the environmental problems caused by livestock here in the U.S., and taking into consideration that Americans can choose to eat a healthy diet containing no animal products.  But when it comes to countries where marginal farmland and subsistence farming may make the issues more complex, I stayed out of it.

This article, “10 Reasons to Say No to Animal Gifting Hunger Organizations,” dives right in.  Have you been told their land will support nothing but grazing animals?  Have you been offered the image of cows and goats wandering around the homestead eating plants that were of no use anyway, producing free milk which is healthy and nutritious for starving people?  Find out.

Posted in Animals, Environment, Nutrition, Social Justice | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Bad Eating Habits Start in the Womb

Posted by tinako on February 5, 2014

Great NY Times article on studies showing the lifelong effects a baby’s diet has: “changing food preferences beyond toddlerhood appears to be extremely difficult.”

Posted in Nutrition | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Truth About Soy

Posted by tinako on July 22, 2013

How many articles do you suppose have that title?  Anyway, this seemed pretty good:

The Truth about Soy” by John Robbins

Posted in Cancer, Nutrition | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Don’t Take Your Vitamins

Posted by tinako on June 24, 2013

I like this opinion piece in the N.Y. Times, “Don’t Take Your Vitamins,” which has a nice summary of the substantial research showing increases in death from taking vitamin pills, and why the FDA is powerless to inform you of this.  I know you’ll be surprised that the answer is corporate money.

Posted in Cancer, Cardiovascular, Disease | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Giving Up Chocolate (mostly)

Posted by tinako on April 29, 2013

I have loved chocolate as much as a anybody.  I was a candy-holic as a kid, and by kid I mean through college, and for quantity I mean I’d ride my bike to the grocery store to buy 3-4 quarts, I’d say, from the bulk bins, and finish it off in a few days.  After college I wasn’t that bad, but I’d still walk to a convenience store and buy the largest Hershey bar and eat it in a day or two.  Maybe I’d share it with my husband.  Maybe.  I remember a coworker having to give up chocolate 20 years ago – I felt so sorry for her.  So I get the appeal.

When I went vegan five years ago, I switched to dark chocolate because there was no vegan milk chocolate readily available to me.  I’m not going to say that dark chocolate doesn’t taste as good, though I think many would say that.  I at first felt like I was settling for ninth best, but it wasn’t long before I was really enjoying its bitterness, its subtle charms.  When vegan milk chocolate became available and I tried one, it was so sweet.  Too sweet!  And I noticed that when I had finished it I wanted MORE; this in contrast to having a bit of dark chocolate, after which I’m happy and satisfied.  Because I realized that having these sweeter bars would A. make me want them more often and B. make me like the dark chocolate less, I knew starting a habit with them would be a bad idea, so I almost never have one, maybe every other year.

I was happy with two squares of 70% dark Ghirardelli baking chocolate every night.  I did this for several years, until about a year ago, when we needed to save some money and I realized how expensive this tiny habit was.  These bars are $2.50, and I was eating one every four days; that’s $20 a month just in a bit of chocolate.  Not only that, but my husband would have the same, so now we were up to $40 a month in chocolate!  For those of you with a daily Starbucks habit, this is nothing, I’m sure, but it’s a lot when you’re looking for every dollar you can cut from the budget.  $40 is a takeout meal for the four of us!

So I stopped cold.  When I did, I noticed three things.

  1. I really craved this chocolate for a few evenings.  I talk about cravings at this post, Care and Feeding of Cravings, and had come across this video by Neal Barnard of PCRM: “Chocolate, Cheese, Meat, and Sugar – Physically Addictive.”  I was able to overcome the chocolate craving with a few evenings of mindfulness.
  2. My complexion improved.  There were a few mornings when I couldn’t remember whether I’d put on my makeup.  I chalked this up to distraction, but then I realized the reason I couldn’t remember is I couldn’t tell.  Most of my acne went away when I cut out sugar, but without chocolate, my face had a clarity, a visual smoothness.  It took me a few more weeks to make the connection, but when I eat chocolate, the next day my face is a little blotchy or something, not quite sure how to say it other than I felt I needed makeup.  So I don’t wear it any more, just a moisturizer with SPF.
  3. My blood pressure went down.  It had been creeping up over the last few years into the 120’s, and I think the last trip to the doctor it was 128 over something.  This is prehypertension:

    “Prehypertension increases the risk of heart disease. According to a 2005 analysis by the Framingham Heart Study, men with prehypertension are 3.5 times more likely to suffer heart attacks than those with normal blood pressures. Surprisingly, although high blood pressure is a major cause of strokes, prehypertension did not appear to increase the risk of stroke.” – Harvard Medical School

    She said not to worry about it but I decided, why not try to improve it?  So I got a blood pressure cuff and borrowed a book, Complete Idiot’s Guide to Blood Pressure, and tried all the suggestions for months, keeping careful records, to no avail.  I had none of the risk factors (“A primary risk factor for prehypertension is being overweight. Other risk factors include a family history of hypertension, a sedentary lifestyle, eating high sodium foods, smoking, and excessive alcohol intake.), but I tried to improve.  I exercise every day, but began exercising much more, no difference.  I eat a whole-foods home-cooked diet, but cut out added salt entirely, no difference.  Meditated more, no difference.  I cut out alcohol and tea, no difference (Here’s a post I wrote at the time).  But when I dropped chocolate, for cost reasons?  It dropped twenty points.  Ate it again, up it went.  It wasn’t a 100% perfect correlation, and it was never right away, always the next day, but it was pretty evident.  And to the best of my recall, my bp had been inching up over the time period when I had been developing the chocolate habit.  I mentioned it to my doctor, who was dubious until she took my pressure: 109 over whatever.

So, my face looks better, my risk of heart disease is down, and I don’t crave it any more.  I have no reason to eat it.  Once in a very great while I have a square of it (that’s not enough to affect my bp or cravings), and I feel free to eat chocolate desserts.  So that’s the “mostly” part.

Posted in Cardiovascular, Nutrition | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Exercise affects Satiety

Posted by tinako on March 15, 2013

This connection took me completely by surprise.  I have been asking friends and family how they experience satiety, the sense that you’ve had enough to eat, and found there was a wide variation.  One friend says she has never felt satiety, that she always wants more.  A family member tells me that to him satiety is on or off, and that it doesn’t kick in for a while after eating.  My son and I, on the other hand, feel it slowly coming on as we eat – we feel a stretching sensation in our stomachs and know from experience at what point we need to stop or we will feel ill later.  Is the knowing satiety, or is it the ability to stop eating?  There was a time (before I ran) when I would eat myself sick and continue to eat – did I experience satiety or just a stomachache?

I also figured satiety was something people were ignoring, or the call for food was overpowering will. My friends and family are often surprised that food just doesn’t have much of a hold on me.  For this reason I’m rather humble about my ability to maintain my weight – somehow my wiring has made it easy.

A recent article in the New York Times has astonished me.  In The Appetite Workout, two studies are cited opening a window onto a new view of satiety, and it’s all about exercise-induced hormones.  The article is short and well-written, so I won’t summarize it.

But they weren’t measuring people’s sense of how full they were.  They were measuring how much they ate.  In this case, at least, satiety is not the awareness but the action.

By the way, I run, but my son doesn’t, and we’re both normal weight, but at 13 he still has less control over what he eats than I do, since I shop and he is penniless.

Posted in Exercise, Nutrition | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Decoding Nutrition Labels

Posted by tinako on March 5, 2013

I few years ago I saw a video of Jeff Novick giving an 80 minute presentation of a simplified method of reading U.S. food labels to get past the health hype and find out if it’s good for you. Yes, it’s 80 minutes, but he was an engaging speaker explaining things fully and giving lots of practice examples. He’s an ex-Kraft Inc. nutritionist with a geeky sense of humor, and anyone was sure to learn something that will improve your health.

Unfortunately, I can’t find the full length presentation anymore.  However, I did find an article about his method at  I found the tip on salt particularly helpful.

Posted in Nutrition | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Soy and Cancer

Posted by tinako on February 6, 2013

About a year ago I went looking for links between soy and estrogen when an aquaintance expressed alarm that I was giving my son soy.  I found at that time that the blogs were full of this, but they never seemed to have any sources except each other.  I searched for sources myself and could find no evidence or warnings at NIH, USDA, Mayo Clinic, or the American Dietetic Association.  On the contrary, research looking for ill effects among Japanese eating a lot more soy than we do found none.

A friend of mine recently went vegan and said she was avoiding soy because her friend told her it was linked to cancer.  I said she could easily be vegan and never eat soy.  If it worries you, don’t eat it.  But I went to look for evidence about soy and cancer.  Those sites I visited before now acknowledge that there is concern about soy’s health effects, but I’m not seeing any general warnings.  I emailed to my friend what I found, and thought perhaps others would be interested.  I’m not a doctor, just a Googling Know-it-All.  Here’s what I wrote to her:

“Before I bore you on soy, I wanted to suggest that is a great source for vegan diet info.  They are very reputable, very calm and reasonable.  Click on Veg Nutrition and then choose a topic such as calcium, protein, or B12.  A  vegan should probably know at least those three topics.  Getting back to soy, you can look at this page at VRG and the second FAQ is about soy.  The answer gives a great overview and includes servings: people in Asian countries eat 2-3 servings per day (and do very well).

Here are a group of studies I found on soy, mostly through National Institutes of Health, the official U.S. government medical entity.  I didn’t “cherry-pick” them at all – this is the order I found them in Google, actively looking for anything negative, until I got sick of looking:

1. This scientific article says soy consumption in Japan seemed to reduce risk of colon cancer slightly among women only.

2. This scientific article about breast cancer in Japan (where many were exposed to the bomb) has a confusing abstract but I think the key sentence is: “The risk for breast cancer was not significantly associated with consumption of soya foods.”  Not sure if they were looking for increased risk or decreased risk, but they found neither.

3. Another study from Japan shows “frequent miso soup and isoflavone consumption was associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer.”

4. Another study says: “The present study provides modest support for the preventive role of soy against stomach cancer and heart disease death.”

5. Another study, and this one assumes everyone knows soy is good against stomach cancer: “Soy food is known to contribute greatly to a reduction in the risk of gastric cancer (GC). However, both Japanese and Korean populations have high incidence rates of GC despite the consumption of a wide variety of soy foods. One primary reason is that they consume fermented rather than non-fermented soy foods….These findings show that a high level of consumption of non-fermented soy foods, rather than fermented soy foods, is important in reducing GC risk.”  (Miso and tempeh are fermented.  It isn’t clear to me whether they’re suggesting the high rate of GC is caused by fermented tofu or just isn’t helped by it.)

Studies can be flawed and contradictory, so it is important to look at wider views from professionals who have drawn what conclusions they can from carefully examining many studies:

At a general page at NIH where they sum up research, under the general statement that “Soy is considered safe for most people when used as a food or when taken for short periods as a dietary supplement” they do have this one conditional negative statement: “Soy’s possible role in breast cancer risk is uncertain. Until more is known about soy’s effect on estrogen levels, women who have or who are at increased risk of developing breast cancer or other hormone-sensitive conditions (such as ovarian or uterine cancer) should be particularly careful about using soy and should discuss it with their health care providers.”   I’m not sure what research leads them to worry about soy – I can’t find anything specific online – but that’s what they say.

Another article from NIH.  This one is pretty good, seems comprehensive, and again (I mean like everything except the previous article) has nothing to say about soy increasing the risk of breast cancer.  The only thing they say about cancer (and note dementia, too) is:

“The original interest in soy was fueled by…the observation that populations that consume a lot of soy, particularly those in eastern Asia, have less breast cancer, prostate cancer, and cardiovascular disease, and fewer bone fractures. Additionally, women in these populations report fewer menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, and both men and women have a lower incidence of aging-related brain diseases. Since lifestyle can affect chronic disease development, and diet is a major lifestyle factor, traditional Asian diets drew considerable attention.  …[T]he cumulative evidence of numerous biomarker studies has confirmed that their diets are significantly higher in both isoflavones and lignans (another phytoestrogen) compared to the typical Western diet. Studies have further shown that when Asians emigrate to Western nations such as the United States and adopt the prevailing diet, their disease rates change.”

This last sentence indicates that the lower incidence of those diseases mentioned is therefore not a genetic effect but something around them that changed when they moved to the U.S., probably diet.

For another point of view, the Mayo clinic, who were mum on the topic last time I looked, now say:

The high intake of soy foods in Asian countries has long been credited, at least by some researchers, for the lower rate of breast cancer among Asian women, compared with women in countries where little soy is consumed. But some confusion arises when you look at genistein, the main soy isoflavone and a plant estrogen. Does it protect against breast cancer or, on the other hand, promote the growth of existing cancer cells? Some studies have suggested the latter. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic reviewed all the evidence and concluded that soy has not been shown to fuel breast cancer cells. “If breast cancer patients enjoy soy products,” they concluded, “it seems reasonable for them to continue to use them.” Whether soy actually protects against breast cancer is still unknown.”

Lastly (I promise) John’s Hopkins University has this very clear page:

10 Myths About Breast Cancer Survivorship

MYTH 1: Eating soy products after having hormone receptor positive breast cancer increases my chance of a recurrence.

FACT: Research on soy has been conflicting over the years. It has the capacity to mimic as well as block certain estrogens. Overall, natural dietary soy in the form of soy milk, soy bean sprouts, tofu or tempeh appears to be safe and may provide significant health benefits when it replaces animal sources of milk and protein. However, soy in concentrated forms such as pills, powders and supplements has the strongest potential for estrogenic activity and probably should be avoided by anyone who has been diagnosed with hormonal receptive breast cancer.

I’m not pooh-poohing your friend’s research.  You’ll just want to compare her sources to these and decide for yourself.”

Posted in Cancer, Nutrition | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Healthy Food is Cheaper than Junk

Posted by tinako on July 26, 2012

The USDA has an interesting new view of the argument that healthy food is more expensive than junk food: that may often be so calorie for calorie, but how about satiety?

Check out this article, “Healthy Food is a Better Deal than Junk Food

Posted in Nutrition | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Big Food

Posted by tinako on July 23, 2012

I just listened to a Yale Rudd Center podcast about a new exhibit at the Yale Peabody Museum called “Big Food: Health, Culture, and the Evolution of Eating.”

I’ve asked my city’s science museum to consider hosting this exhibit.  In addition to wanting to see it for myself, I love the idea that area schoolchildren could be exposed to these ideas in a fun way.

Maybe you’d like to see it at your local museum, too.

Posted in Nutrition, Schools | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »