Entries in Nutrition (84)


'Berry' Good Diets Are Beneficial for Heart Health

Photodisc/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- Doctors have long advised patients to add helpings of berries to their diets for the antioxidants. Now researchers say berries can be good for the heart.

A new study has found that women who eat at least three servings of blueberries and strawberries a week can reduce the risk of a heart attack by 32 percent. The berries contain plenty of compounds called anthocyanins, which researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health say may dilate arteries and cut plaque build-up.

The researchers looked at almost 94,000 American women ages 25 to 42. They found that 405 heart attacks had been reported by the participants, who answered questions about their diets every four years for 18 years.

The findings were published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Food Swap for Less Salt: How to Make Healthier Kids’ Lunches, Snacks

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- If you’re a label reader, here is a nutrition fact you don’t want to miss. It’s not just calories, fat and sugar you should be checking. Another culprit assaulting our diets is sodium -- and it can be found in just about everything.

A new study shows that children and teens in the United States on average are taking in as much sodium as adults. Since kids’ bodies are smaller, consuming that much sodium each day could mean major health problems when they grow up.

Registered dietician Cynthia Sass worked with Nightline to compare the sodium content in kids’ lunches and snacks. Here’s a breakdown and suggestions on what you can do to make healthier lunches and snacks for you and your family.

[TAKE THE QUIZ: Which Product Has More Sodium?]

LUNCH: Instead of deli-sliced turkey on white bread with American cheese and mayo:

  • 3 oz deli oven roasted turkey -- 420 mg sodium
  • 2 slices white Wonder bread -- 300 mg sodium
  • 1 slice Kraft American cheese -- 200 mg sodium
  • 1 Tbsp Hellman’s mayo -- 90 mg sodium

TOTAL: 1,010 mg sodium

Try grilled chicken breast with Swiss cheese on an English muffin with mustard:

  • 3 oz baked or grilled chicken breast -- 75 mg sodium
  • 1 honey wheat Thomas’ English muffin -- 180 mg sodium
  • 1 slice baby Swiss cheese -- 35 mg sodium
  • 1 tsp French’s yellow mustard -- 55 mg sodium

TOTAL: 345 mg sodium -- a difference of 665 mg sodium

Also consider trying this fresh food lunch recipe as an option:

Turkey Taco Boats

  • ¼ cup red bell pepper, chopped
  • ¼ cup onion, chopped
  • ¼ cup low sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 tbsp chopped cilantro
  • 4 large outer Romaine leaves
  • 3 oz cooked extra lean ground turkey
  • ½ cup fresh or frozen, thawed organic sweet corn or kernels sliced from 1 medium ear of fresh roasted organic corn
  • 4 lime wedges
  • ½ cup salsa
  • ¼ of a medium avocado, sliced

On stovetop over medium heat, sauté peppers and onions in broth until tender, set aside. Mix cilantro into ground turkey. Fill each Romaine leaf with turkey, then corn and squeeze with fresh lime. Top with salsa, sautéed vegetables and avocado and serve.

Sodium total: 386 mg

SNACKS: Instead of Cheetos and Oreo cookies:

  • 1 single serving snack bag of Cheetos -- 290 mg sodium
  • 1 Oreo cookie from a 12-pack single serve -- 240 mg sodium

TOTAL: 530 mg sodium

Try plain Lay’s potato chips and Hershey kisses:

  • 1 single serving bag of regular Lay’s potato chips -- 180 mg sodium
  • 9 Hershey kisses -- 35 mg sodium

TOTAL: 215 mg sodium -- a different of 315 mg sodium

Also consider trying this fresh food snack recipe as an option:

Vanilla Almond Frozen Banana

  • 6 oz fat free organic yogurt
  • Seeds from 1 small vanilla bean or 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 small banana peeled, not sliced
  • ¼ cup rolled oats (raw or toasted on a cookie sheet)
  • 2 Tbsp sliced or chopped almonds

Stir vanilla into yogurt. Dip banana into yogurt or spoon yogurt over banana to coat thoroughly. Mix oats and almonds. Sprinkle banana with nut mixture, wrap in wax paper and freeze at least 20 minutes.    

Sodium total: 120 mg

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Snacks: The USDA's Solution to Students' 'Healthy Lunch' Hunger Complaints

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- According to Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the solution to the growing grumbling over re-vamped school lunch menus boils down to a good old fashioned snack.

School lunch trays are a bit lighter this year after Congress-approved calorie limits on school lunches went into effect in August. The new regulations, which were championed by First Lady Michelle Obama as part of her "Let's Move" campaign to fight childhood obesity, have inspired protests and even a video parody from students who claim the reduced lunches are making them go hungry.

"It's not surprising that some youngsters will in the middle of the day be hungry," Vilsack told ABC News, responding to the controversy. "I remember my two boys when they came back from school they were always hungry, we always had snacks prepared for them."

Vilsack said the Obama Administration is working with school districts to create snack programs and encouraging parents to pack extra food for their active students to munch on before football practice or band rehearsal.

"We understand that change is difficult," Vilsack said. "Some folks love it, some folks have had questions about it, but that's to be expected when you're dealing with 32 million children and you're dealing with over a hundred thousand school districts."

Under the new regulations, cafeterias are required to serve twice as many fruits and vegetables while limiting proteins and carbohydrates. For an average high school student, that means two baked fish nuggets, a cup of vegetables, half a cup of mashed potatoes, one whole grain roll and eight ounces of fat free milk is the fuel that served to get them through their last four hours of classes.

But for a grumbling crowd of students, those 750 to 850 calories aren't cutting it.

"We hear them complaining around 1:30 or 2:00 that they are already hungry," said Linda O'Connor, a high school English teacher at Wallace County High School in Sharon Springs, Kan. "It's all the students, literally all the students... you can set your watch to it."

O'Connor teamed up with her hungry students and fellow teacher Brenda Kirkham to create a ballad to the growling stomachs that are now pestering her classroom. The YouTube song and dance video "We Are Hungry," set to the tune of Fun's "We Are Young," now has more than 108,000 hits.

"Give me some seconds, I, I need to get some food today," 16-year-old Wallace County High School football player Callahan Grund sings in the video. "My friends are at the corner store getting junk so they don't waste away."

Vilsack said it was "great" that students were speaking out, but said he had not watched the video.

"I think it's great that kids are creative and I think it's great that they're participating in the process by letting their feelings known and using that format to express themselves," he said.

Across the state at St. Mark's Charter School in Colwich, Kan., middle school students are protesting the new regulations, which limit their calories to between 600 and 700 per meal, by bringing their lunches from home.

St. Mark's Principal Craig Idacavage said more than half of his 330-student school are opting for sack lunches because "they feel they are not able to get full" on the school offerings.

"I think they have a valid point and you can only hope that people will listen to them," Idacavage said.

The new school lunch regulations, which first lady Michelle Obama championed and a Democrat-led Congress passed in 2010, set a maximum calorie limit for high school lunches at between 750 and 850 calories. Under the old rules, cafeterias served a minimum of 825 calories per lunch.

Elementary students' lunches pack between 550 and 650 calories as opposed to the 633 calories allotted under the old rules.

For Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that "scant diet" is a "rude awakening" for schoolchildren across the country. King and Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., introduced the "No Kids Hungry Act" this month to repeal the new lunch menu standards and prohibit the calorie limits.

"Kids are of varying sizes, activity levels and metabolism rates," King wrote in a Des Moines Register op-ed. "How can we expect each child to flourish and grow on subsistence diets? This all because some are overweight."

But it is not just a few overweight kids that are causing calorie cuts across the cafeteria. One out of every four adolescents are too overweight to join the military, according to a report released Tuesday by Mission: Readiness, a group of retired military leaders who claim obesity is now a national security issue.

"Removing the junk food from our schools should be part of comprehensive action that involves parents, schools and communities in helping children make healthy food choices," retired U.S. Coast Guard Admiral James Loy said in a statement. "The bottom line is that the armed services must have a sufficient pool of fit young adults to draw from in order to field enough recruits with the excellent qualifications needed to staff a 21st century military."

Despite students' complaints over growling stomachs, the new nutritional requirements should actually be making them feel fuller, said Kristi King, a registered pediatric dietician at Texas Children's Hospital and a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

The new rules double the amount of fruit and vegetables that are served and mandate that half of all bread products are whole grain. All three of those food types are chock full of fiber, which takes longer to digest, King said.

"It should be making kids fuller if they are actually consuming the whole product," King said. "If children are not picking the entire meal available to them they are obviously going to be hungry."

In Jackson, Miss., the state with the highest obesity rate, school cafeterias have been easing kids into the healthy food regulations.

Mary Hill, the executive director of food services at Jackson Public School District said her school district has been phasing in more fruit and vegetable options over the past few years to prepare for the regulations and while the new rules are an "adjustment" for the students, she said she has not heard any complaints.

"To me, if you hear that grumbling it's that typical grumbling with children," Hill said. "You know children will be children."

Meanwhile, other critics have griped that the Obamas'  own daughters don't have to suffer under the new regulations, as they attend private school.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Looking for a 'Hunger Fix'? Food Addicts Can Re-Train the Brain

Melia Patria/ABC(NEW YORK) -- Tara Costa calls herself a recovering addict, but the substance she abused was food.

Costa wasn't just overeating, she was out of control.

"I used to probably have a pint of ice cream almost every other night, if not more than that," she said. "Not my proudest moments."

Aside from a pint of ice cream, Costa said she would also devour wings and waffle fries smothered in cheese and gravy.

"That meal alone was probably around 6,000 calories, if not more," she said.

By age 22, Costa tipped the scales at 316 pounds, and then decided to shed the weight in the most public way possible, on the reality TV show, The Biggest Loser.

On the show, she lost an astonishing 155 pounds, a transformation that landed her on the cover of magazines, such as OK! and Good Housekeeping. But when some of the weight started to creep back, she realized it wasn't just her body she was battling, it was her mind.

"Now it's not about willpower, it's about -- there might be something wrong up here," she said, pointing to her head.

Dr. Pamela Peeke, a nutrition and fitness expert, said Costa is not alone. Although some doctors dispute it, Peeke believes emerging research is evidence that food addiction is real.

And it just might be playing into this country's obesity epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than one-third of American adults are now classified as either overweight or obese, and obesity kills more Americans every year than AIDS, all cancers and all accidents combined.

In her new book, The Hunger Fix, Peeke argued that for some people, food can be as addictive as cocaine with some experiencing cravings, binging and withdrawal.

[Read a Book Excerpt: The Hunger Fix]

"It's mixture of what we call the hyper-palatable ingredients and these are uber-rewarding to the reward system," she said. "In the brain, organically in the reward system, you're secreting lots of that wonderful pleasure reward brain chemical called dopamine, and it's coming out, and it's just giving you that fantastic feeling of, 'Wow, this is wonderful'... which is why my patients tell me, 'I need a hit.'"

For compulsive eaters, like Tara Costa, recognizing her addiction was like a thunderclap to the brain.

"[It] makes me feel good that, guess what, I'm not crazy," Costa said. "There's science now behind this that can help people."

In The Hunger Fix, Peeke offers a prescription to get food addicts on the road to detox, rehab and recovery. She calls it the three "M's": Mind, Mouth, Muscle. By focusing on the three "M's," Dr. Peeke believes people can re-train their brains.

Step one: Strengthen the mind. Peeke said people should identify the snacks they crave the most and then use transcendental meditation to reduce the urges.

"This is not a New Age moment," she said. "This is hardcore neuroscience. You activate that brain CEO when you do meditation, and by doing so, guess what, you're powering up the brain to be able to stay vigilant."

Step two: Trick the mouth. Peeke said there are ways we can replace our unhealthy "food fixes" with foods that are just as delicious but are whole, natural foods. Instead of reaching for the ice cream, Peeke said people should try a chocolate, cherry and almond protein smoothie, but instead of a protein bar, try a banana with peanut butter and instead of a cupcake, try a carrot muffin.

"So what I'm doing is I'm trying to make sure people understand they can get a healthy high without it having to be high-jacked in their reward system by all these sugary fatty, salty food combinations," she said.

Step three: Move your muscles. By working out regularly, Peeke said people can stave off cravings and reward their brains with endorphins instead of sugar.

"The new science now shows you actually increase the size of the brain, because you stimulate brain growth," she said, "It's called neurogenesis. Who doesn't want a bigger brain? I do."

"The second thing that happens is, when you do things like physical activity, you also induce changes in your genes, in your actual genes. It's a new science called epigenetics," she continued. "So what happens is if you actually have genes that -- place you at higher vulnerability for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer. When you do physical activity, you dampen down that. You deactivate a certain percentage of those genes."

Tara Costa is in what Peeke calls "master recovery." Costa recently did something beyond her wildest imaginings -- she finished an ironman triathlon in Kona, Hawaii.

"No dream is impossible," she said. "Every day when I wake up I know that I'm going to be doing something that's going to build a bigger brain, going to run or ride a bike."

Costa said she will be a recovering food addict for the rest of her life, and while it is an uphill battle, just accepting her addiction is a victory.

"I wish I could be normal with it," she said. "I wish I could have one bite and be satisfied and that be it, but you know what, I have hope, I have hope that it will be OK."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Low-Fat Yogurt May Cut High Blood Pressure Risk

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Low-fat yogurt may help lower your risk for high blood pressure, according to new research.

A new study of more than 2,100 adults presented at the American Heart Association’s High Blood Pressure Research 2012 Scientific Sessions Wednesday found that those who reported eating more low-fat yogurt were 31 percent less likely to develop high blood pressure than those who ate less.

The researchers also found that, over the course of the 15-year study, low-fat yogurt eaters, on average, had lower increases in systolic blood pressure -- the “first” or top "number” in a blood pressure reading -- compared to those who did not eat low-fat yogurt.

These results held up even after adjusting for weight, use of blood pressure medications and lifestyle factors, including diet.

This study, which was partially funded by yogurt company Dannon, was part of a bigger long-term project, known as the Framingham Heart Study.

About one in three adults living in the United States -- around 68 million Americans -- have high blood pressure, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  High blood pressure increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, which are leading causes of death across the nation.

Dr. Robert O. Bonow, director of the Center for Cardiovascular Innovation at Northwestern’s Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute, said that when it comes to keeping blood pressure at bay, every bit counts.

“As you get older, your [blood] pressure tends to go up,” said Bonow, who was not involved in the study. “If you can minimize the age-related increase, that’s good.”

The researchers behind the study and other experts cautioned that while this study found a link between low-fat yogurt and lower blood pressure, it doesn’t prove that yogurt actually lowers blood pressure.

There could be other reasons why individuals who eat low-fat yogurt do better, the researchers said.

Some nutrition experts noted, however, that these findings do add to the growing body of evidence of the health benefits of low-fat yogurt.

“Previous studies have found that including low-fat dairy foods in a healthy diet can help manage blood pressure,” said Lona Sandon, a registered dietitian and assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

“The Dash studies published over a decade ago showed that a healthy diet pattern that included lots of fruits, vegetables, three low-fat dairy servings per day and limited saturated fat along with a moderate sodium intake was effective for lowering blood pressure,” said Sandon, who was not involved with the study.

According to the researchers, low-fat yogurt is high in protein and other nutrients -- calcium, potassium and magnesium -- that are related to blood pressure and are typically underconsumed by Americans.

Sandon agreed. “The calcium found in yogurt and other dairy foods may be the key ingredient,” she said. "An earlier version of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that people who ate more foods high in calcium had lower blood pressure.  Taking calcium supplements does not seem to have the same effect as foods that naturally contain calcium.”

How much low-fat yogurt should you consume to try to help your blood pressure? The researchers found that eating six ounces of yogurt every three days helped.

There’s an easy way to figure out how much yogurt that is. “A woman’s fist is about one cup.  The palm of a woman’s hand is half a cup,” said Connie Diekman, a registered dietitian and director of University Nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis, “So a little bit between those is six ounces.”

There are other known benefits of snacking on low-fat yogurt besides helping bone health, said Diekman, who was not involved in the study.

“Yogurt is a great source of protein,” she said. “The protein keeps you feeling full a little longer.  It does have some liquid so it provides some hydration.”

While more rigorous research on low-fat yogurt is needed before doctors can reliably link it to lower blood pressure, nutrition experts said that adding some of it to your diet can’t hurt.

“Yogurt can be part of a healthy diet and may help with managing blood pressure,” said Sandon. “A healthy diet coupled with regular physical exercise can help you manage your health and prevent chronic diseases like high blood pressure.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Restricted-Calorie Diet May Not Lead to Longevity

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- To Merrill Averill and Paul McGothin, two 60-something marketing executives from Ossining, N.Y., a rumbling tummy equates to the fountain of youth. They practice an extreme calorie restriction because they believe that eating less is the secret to living longer. Now a new study published in the online version of the journal Nature casts doubt on that idea.

In the late 1980s, scientists set out to test the theory that dietary restriction could extend the life span of long-lived primates, as decades of studies had found it did in mice and other lower organisms. If true, this would strongly imply that the same assumptions could be made about humans.

Two independent teams -- one at the U.S. National Institute on Aging in Bethesda, Md., and the other at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center in Madison, Wis., each placed rhesus monkeys on diets that contained 30-percent fewer calories than normal and have periodically provided updates on the health and longevity of the animals.

As the latest Nature dispatch found, the NIA monkeys fed a calorie-restricted diet didn't live any longer than monkeys on a higher-calorie diet. No matter what they ate, maximum lifespan seems to hover around 40 years of age. Half the monkeys that began the study as youngsters were still alive, but the researchers say, based on survival patterns, they predict the remaining calorie-restrictors and controls will all live to be about the same age.

Monkeys that started the diet in their youth did show a trend toward a delay in the onset of age-associated disease. Interestingly, the strict diet appeared to decrease the risk of cancer and possibly diabetes but slightly increased the risk of cardiovascular disease.

"It is likely that calorie restriction alters cellular pathways that contribute to cancer differently than it does those pathways leading to metabolic dysfunction," said Dr. Julie Mattison, an author of the paper. "Given the experimental design, it is possible that pathways leading to cancer are impacted earlier or to a greater extent than others."

And the dieting monkeys also enjoyed improved health. For example, eating a restricted diet made them slimmer than those in the control group, and if they began the diet in middle age (16-23 years old for monkeys) they had lower blood fat and blood sugar levels compared to the non-dieters. Male dieters of all ages had lower cholesterol levels than the controls.

These latest findings are at odds with the WNPRC study in which calorie-restricted monkeys have far outlived the controls. Floyd Chilton, a professor of physiology and pharmacology at Wake Forest University Medical Center, said the study design might account for some of the disparities.

For one thing, the Wisconsin monkeys subsisted on a diet that shared many of the same unhealthy aspects of a typical Western diet, such as a high amount of sugar, whereas the NIA primates were fed a much healthier diet and were also given vitamin supplements.

"The NIA monkeys were already eating so healthy to begin with, the calorie reduction may not have provided much more of a health advantage," Chilton said.

Mattison said this could be a limitation. "Certainly quality of the food and the nutrient composition/ratios could factor into the equation. Because calorie restriction is causing a metabolic stress, it is reasonable to speculate that a nutritionally complete and balanced diet would be better for the organism, regardless of the quantity," she said.

Another difference: The NIA monkeys were given two meals a day on a schedule while the Wisconsin monkeys ate whenever they pleased. Both groups were also genetically quite diverse; since each study included a relatively small number of individuals -- 70 divided between calorie restriction and control groups -- the genetic variations might have further skewed results.

Whatever the mechanisms may be, Chilton says the two primate studies are heroic and should be respected for being the first long-term investigations to provide clues about how humans might respond to eating a sparse diet. Nevertheless, the debate will certainly continue.

As for Averill and Paul McGothin, they say these recent findings don't shake their faith in calorie restriction in the least. They plan on continuing with the diet and spreading the gospel through their organization, CR Society International.

"At my recent physical exam my doctor told me I am in remarkable shape," McGothin says. "That's all the proof I need."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Dr. Mike Dow: Rehab Your Diet in 5 Simple Steps

Goodshoot/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Addiction expert Dr. Mike Dow, author of Diet Rehab, host of TLC’s Freaky Eaters and co-host of VH1′s Couples Therapy, offers these five steps for getting your diet back on track.

Step 1: Ask yourself: What am I truly missing in my life?  The answer to this question will help you understand what your brain is really hungry for and if you’re low on serotonin, dopamine, or both.  If you need more serenity, stability, or happiness in your relationship or job, you may be low on serotonin.  If you need less boredom, more adventure, or to feel like you’re living and not just existing, it’s dopamine you need.  Sugar and processed carbohydrates provide short-term boosts of serotonin, and high fat foods provide short-term boosts of dopamine.  But using soda, pizza, and fries to try and feel better right now will prevent you from getting the serotonin and dopamine you’re craving in the long-run.

Step 2: When you’re craving an unhealthy food today, try adding a serotonin or dopamine booster activity.  The serenity of a 10 minute walk in the middle of a busy work day will give you a sustainable boost of serotonin you would have gotten from that candy bar or soda.  And the vitality you’ll get from reconnecting with an old friend will give you the same boost of dopamine you would have gotten from those potato chips or fries.

Other serotonin booster activities could include cuddling with your significant other or a pet, joining a support group, listening to classical music, doing errands on foot, or looking into someone’s eyes when you’re talking to them.  Dopamine booster activities include asking a special someone on a date, cooking something you’ve never made before, getting eight hours of sleep tonight, attending a bootcamp-style fitness class, or hitting the playground with the kids.  Come up with your own booster activities to start to change your brain chemistry here and now.

Step 3: Eat more food to lose more weight!  Now that you realize what you’re adding to your life is more important than what you’re taking away, eat more booster foods today.  Booster foods are healthy foods that give your brain a slow, steady release of serotonin or dopamine while staying in your stomach about twice as long as those unhealthy pitfall foods.  You’ll feel fuller, longer.  This makes it easier to choose even more booster foods throughout the day.

Serotonin booster foods like high fiber cereal, whole fruit, or high fiber pasta and veggies in marinara sauce give you this chemical associated with happiness and peace in a healthy way.  Dopamine booster foods like green tea, grilled chicken, or Greek yogurt give you a steady boost of this feel-good chemical associated with motivation, productivity, and vigor.

Step 4: Start cutting down on the number of pitfall foods you eat every day.  The best way to do this is using booster food swaps.  Here are some of my favorite swaps: Vitamin Water Zero instead of diet soda, coffee with skim milk instead of a latte, whole oranges instead of orange juice, soda water instead of tonic water, balsamic vinegar and olive oil instead of Caesar dressing, Szechuan chicken instead of orange chicken, sashimi and edamame instead of a spicy tuna roll, salsa instead of guacamole, hummus instead of peanut butter, pepper instead of salt, mustard instead of mayonnaise, or a 6″ turkey sub  on whole wheat instead of the roast beef on white.  You’ll find even more booster food swaps in Diet Rehab.  Long-term, sustainable weight loss is not about depriving yourself.  It’s about getting what you need in the long-run.  Weight loss is not a sprint.  It’s a marathon, and the race is only with yourself.

Step 5: Keep your momentum going by maintaining these new rituals.  Diet Rehab is a 28-day program because it takes about a month for a habit to form in the human brain.  When you are adding healthier booster foods and activities every day for 28 days, these choices start to require less conscious effort.  If you’ve ever found yourself driving home when you meant to stop at the store on the way home from work, you understand the unconscious principle that will now help you to make these healthier rituals an easy part of your daily life.  Set yourself up for success by surrounding yourself with people who support you in these rituals, not keeping pitfall foods in the house, and building your day around the booster activities that help you to feel good and look great.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


For Calories, It's All About Quality over Quantity, Harvard Study Says

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- When is a calorie not just a calorie? When it comes to losing weight, according to a new study from Harvard University. The results found that the number of calories consumed is not necessarily as important as the quality of those calories: That is to say, the kind of calories the body gets may affect how efficiently people burn their body's energy, which can be key for losing weight and keeping it off.

"It's not that calories don't matter, but the quality of the calories going in can affect the number of calories going out," said study author Dr. David Ludwig, at Boston Children's Hospital.

The researchers studied 21 overweight and obese adults, starting each on a diet that helped them lose at least 12.5 percent of their body weight. Then, to help them maintain that weight loss, the researchers put the participants on a cycle of three diets, and they were to stick to each for four weeks.

One was a low-fat diet, similar to the one recommended by the American Heart Association, which had participants reduce their dietary fat, that emphasized eating whole grains and plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Another was modeled on the Atkin's Diet, a plan in which participants ate more protein and fat but severely curbed their consumption of breads, pastas and other carbohydrates.

The final diet was a low-glycemic index plan, a model based on regulating the body's blood sugar levels used in many commercial diet plans, such as Nutrisystem and the Zone diet. The plan didn't require the participants to reduce the fat or carbohydrates in their diets but focused on the quality of the carbohydrates they ate. The plan pushed participants to replace some grain products and starches with vegetables, legumes, fruits and foods rich in healthy fats.

The results weren't good news for low-fat diet aficionados. When dieters followed that plan, their bodies burned fewer calories than when they were following the low-carb or low-glycemic index diets. And the low-fat diet changed certain metabolic factors in their bodies that typically predicted weight regain.

The low-carb diet seemed to help participants burn the most calories. But it also increased certain markers of stress and inflammation in the body, such as the stress hormone cortisol, which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease and other health problems.

In the end, the researchers found that the low-glycemic index diet struck the right balance for the participants. It helped the dieters burn more calories, though not as many as the low-carb diet, but didn't seem to increase disease-causing stress markers in the body.

The study was published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The results provide physiological evidence for a growing consensus among doctors and diet specialists that low-fat diets, a longtime staple of advice for shedding pounds, aren't as beneficial as many once thought.

"There is a growing feeling that we need to go beyond low-fat diets, that was too simplistic a vision," Ludwig said. "Instead, focus on reducing highly processed carbohydrates."

Heavily processed carbohydrates like white bread, white rice and some breakfast cereals, to name a few make sugar readily accessible, rather than securing it to more healthy elements, like the fiber in an apple. Ludwig said easily absorbable sugar leads to a rapid surge and crash in blood sugar after a meal, which can wreak havoc on weight loss.

Other studies have found results in favor of weight-loss diets based on the glycemic index, including one study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2010 that found that the diet plan was the most effective in helping people maintain their weight loss.

Dr. Louis Aronne, director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Program at New York Presbyterian Hospital, said the glycemic index has become a key part of his practice in helping obese patients lose weight.

"Many obesity specialists who treat patients all day long, as we do, favor low glycemic diets, those with less sugar and starch, because patients seem to do better," he said.

But not everyone favors the diet plan. Critics argue that the nutrition standards of the glycemic index are out of whack compared with what people know are healthier choices, giving foods like candy and soda healthier ratings than potatoes or rice. Dr. Xavier Pi-Sunyer, director of the New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center, said the concept is too confusing for most consumers to follow for the long-term.

The study did not follow patients for the long term, and the authors note that it's difficult to say whether the dieters would have maintained their weight loss outside of the study's highly controlled setting.

Ultimately, doctors agree that balanced diets that cut out junk are the most healthful ones. Sarah Bleach, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said the best weight loss advice boils down to a simple message: eat fewer calories than you burn through exercise.

"Even if the type of calorie matters for maintaining weight loss, it still boils down to simple arithmetic -- eat less, exercise more," she said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Michelle Obama Announces Food Initiative with Disney Theme Parks

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages(WASHINGTON) -- The Walt Disney Co. will drop advertisers from its children's programming that do not comply with tighter nutrition guidelines instituted by the media and entertainment giant, the company said Tuesday.

First lady Michelle Obama appeared with Disney CEO Bob Iger to endorse the move, which was coupled with health-conscious revisions to menus at Disney's theme parks and resorts.

Obama called the decision a "game changer" for private industry.

"It's huge," she said at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., adding, "Just a few years ago if you had told me or any other mom or dad in America that our kids wouldn't see a single ad for junk food while they watched their favorite cartoons on a major TV network, we wouldn't have believed you."

The first lady said Disney had "turned that conventional wisdom on its head," noting it was the first major media corporation to adopt such a policy. Disney is the parent company of ABC News.

The new guidelines are an expansion of initiatives started by the company in 2006, using voluntary recommendations from the federal government. Iger said the continuing epidemic of childhood obesity in the United States spurred his company to shore up its practices.

"We believe everyone has a role to play in helping the generation of at-risk kids make healthier choices and we're determined to be part of the solution," he said. "If everyone does their small part, together we can create huge change without having the government step in to directly regulate or legislate our efforts."

Roughly one-third of Americans are considered overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.  About 17 percent of children are obese, a figure that has almost tripled since 1980. Michelle Obama said children see an estimated $1.6 billion in food and beverage advertising, many for products with high calories. She said she'd seen its effects firsthand with her own daughters.

"The minute you walk down the [grocery] aisle, the kids are singing some jingle, or they're pulling on your leg begging you, pleading you for whatever they saw on TV," she said. "And, as a mom, I know how that makes it even harder for us to keep our kids healthy."

In an interview after his remarks, Iger conceded that his company could take a revenue hit as a result of Tuesday's announcement.

"When I think about Disney's bottom line, and we think about managing the company, we're thinking about the long term and not any one quarter or any one year," he said.

Iger would later add, "The more we behave as better citizens of the world, the more they will admire our company and like our products. This is good for the Disney brand and good for our bottom line on a long-term basis, even if it pinches us a bit in the short term."

Advertisers in Disney's television, radio and online properties will have until 2015 to comply with the new guidelines.

Disney says it will also revoke its license from private food distributors that do not comply with the new guidelines. For example: breakfast cereals featuring Disney characters on the box. Meanwhile, fast-food options at theme parks and resorts will be replaced with alternatives such as apples or vegetables.

Even the big boss himself -- Mickey Mouse -- took part. Donning a huge white chef's hat, the man-sized rodent advertised a Swiss breakfast cereal of oats and yogurt. But when asked whether treats such as Mickey Mouse ice cream would remain available for purchase, Mr. Mouse gave a silent but emphatic thumbs up.

Iger was quick to note that ice cream, fries and what he called "celebratory foods" would remain on the menu, but would be a distinct minority and no longer the default choice.

Margo Wootan, the director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says the move will force food distributors to comply for both ethical and profit reasons.

"Companies will want to be associated with Disney characters," she said. "They are going to want to place their ads on Disney channels, and so they are going to need to reformulate their products."

Praising the decision, Wootan said entertainment companies need to "take some responsibility" as well because they are ultimately airing the ads.

Michelle Obama has made promotion of nutrition and exercise a major theme of her tenure as first lady, particularly concerning children. The administration says her "Let's Move" campaign has led 1,500 U.S. schools to adopt healthier menus and fitness programs. Several large food distributors have also partnered with the initiative to cut back on calories in their products or expand their stores into neighborhoods without ready access to healthy foods.

Nor is this her first partnership with Disney. In February, the first lady visited ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex at Disney World in Florida to host athletic and dance games for children at the theme park, alongside professional athletes and Disney stars.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


First Lady to Announce Food Initiative With Disney Theme Parks

Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton(WASHINGTON) -- First lady Michelle Obama will appear with Disney CEO Bob Iger in Washington Tuesday to announce an expansion of the media company’s food guidelines.

Disney representatives say the corporation will be making health-conscious revisions to menus at its theme parks and resorts, though the details and scope of their implementation are yet to be revealed.

Disney is the parent company of ABC News.

Michelle Obama has made promotion of nutrition and exercise a major theme of her tenure as first lady, particularly concerning children. The administration says her “Let’s Move!” campaign has led 1,500 American schools to adopt healthier menus and fitness programs. Several large food distributors have also partnered with the initiative to cut back on calories in their products or expand their stores into neighborhoods without ready access to healthy foods.

In February, the first lady visited ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex at Disney World to host athletic and dance games for children at the theme park, alongside professional athletes and Disney stars.

Some critics of the president have targeted Michelle Obama’s initiatives for what they view as unneeded government intrusion into their private lives. Last week on Good Morning America, the first lady said it was about a larger issue.

“That’s not really what “Let’s Move!” has ever been about,” she said, “This isn’t about government telling people what to do. What we know we need to do is give parents, communities, families the tools and the information that they need to make choices that are right for them and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio