Can you live on junk food alone?

People can maintain a healthy lifestyle and eat junk food and fast food if they do so in moderation and also eat enough fruit and vegetables each day. Tips are provided for selecting healthy foods at a fast-food restaurant or from a vending machine.

When the students in Mrs. Blumer’s health class at La Costa Canyon High School in California were asked about junk food, reactions were mixed. “Eating junk food leaves me feeling sick and unsatisfied,” says Marty Megowan, age 16.

Tommy Silcocks, age 16, disagrees. “Of course you can live on junk food. I’ve been doing it my whole life!”

Hanni Stuckenschneider, 15, comments, “You can’t live off junk food. There is no protein, fruit, or veggies. It’s just junk!”


Miriam Raz, 16, from Israel, says, “At home we served fruit and vegetables with every meal. I was surprised when I came to America and saw a McDonald’s on every street corner!”

Fast food isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of healthy eating.

Just what is meant by junk food and fast food? Fast food–such as hamburgers, fries, shakes, tacos, tostados, or fish ‘n’ chips–is high in fat, calories, salt, and cholesterol. The typical fast-food meal is low in calcium and other essential nutrients such as folic acid, vitamin A, iron, and zinc.

Junk food–such as pies, cakes, cookies, sodas, and candy–is mostly fat and sugar. These foods are high in “empty calories,” which means they don’t supply the right fuel and nutrients for a body to thrive.

Hillary Soule, 15, says, “There is a difference between fast foods and junk foods. Not all fast food is junk, because you can ask for salads or pasta or veggies, and burgers on whole-wheat buns. But junk food gives you no nutrients.”

Obviously, not all fast foods are junk foods.

Are Fast Foods Getting a Bad Rap?

Every second about 200 people in the United States order one or more hamburgers. Does this reliance on fast foods mean, more Americans will get cancer, become obese, or die of a heart attack sooner?

Many excellent organizations such as the American Heart Association, the National Cancer Institute, and the National Research Council teach us what constitutes a healthy diet. Maintaining a healthy body weight and eating a wide variety of foods from the Food Guide Pyramid are foremost. Nutritionists recommend a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in fat (no more than 30 percent of total calories), and keeping sodium to a minimum (less than 2,000 mg/day, or one teaspoon salt). Some burgers can contribute as much as 58 percent of the total calories and half of a day’s allowance of salt. The fat content of one fried chicken-patty sandwich is equal to about 1 1/2 pints of ice cream. A medium order of fries can supply up to 4 teaspoons of fat. (See the chart on page 20 for nutrition facts on some popular fast foods.)

So do we stop eating fast foods? Let’s get real. With today’s fast-paced lifestyle, deadlines, and commitments, it seems fast foods–and junk foods–are here to stay.

If you plan ahead and give some thought to what you put into your body, it is possible to get a good meal at a fast-food restaurant. It’s also possible to achieve good nutrition in spite of a frenzied lifestyle. You don’t have to give up your favorite foods.

Smart Eating

So how can you “have it your way“? Simply ask for what you want. To make a fast-food meal or vending machine snack more nutritious, here are a few tips:

* Hold the mayo. And while you’re at it, hold the tartar sauce and other salad dressings on sandwiches and salads. (You can save about 10 to 15 grams of fat, and about 125 calories.)

* Ask for a whole-grain bun instead of white bread. No savings in calories, but a big plus in nutrition.

* No cheese, please. One piece adds about 50 calories and 3 to 4 grams of fat.

* Skin the chicken. Yes, it’s embarrassing to be skinning the chicken at a meal when you’re trying to be cool with your friends, but skinning the chicken cuts about one-third of the calories and almost all the fat.

* Order a small, extra-lean hamburger instead of a large one.

* Baked potatoes have no fat (if you stay away from the sour cream, butter, and cheese), but fries do (about 4 teaspoons). Use fat-free salad dressing or yogurt on your baked potato, along with your favorite veggies.

* Try skim or low-fat milk instead of a soda or shake. Or low-fat frozen yogurt.

* Choose fruit juice or a vegetable from the menu, if available.

* The salad bar is a sure bet. Most salad bars now have low-calorie or fat-free dressings and a variety of veggies and fruit.

* Look for broiled rather than fried anything.

* Further reduce the number of calories by passing up the gravy, guacamole, sour cream, and dessert.

Vending machines sometimes have snacks that are low in fat. Look around. Good bets are fresh fruit or juice, raisins, dry cereal and low-fat milk, pretzels, popcorn without butter, and low-fat crackers.


Choosing Wisely

Katrina Bond, 16, says, “I think it’s really important for teens to learn about what they’re eating and what it’s doing for their bodies.” According to a recent study, the trend today is: Junk food, meat, and fat are on the way out; fruits and vegetables are in. The study reports today’s teens actually care about nutrition. Teenagers are still scarfing down soft drinks, salty snacks, and sweets; but now they favor “healthy” versions such as “niche” soda brands that are less sweet than regular sodas. Carbonated drinks and fruit juices are gaining in popularity, too. Less salty and fatty pretzels and potato chips are in. And many fast-food chains have slimmed down their menus for the health-conscious consumer.

You don’t have to give up eating fast foods. Foods in the fast lane can still be nutritious. It only takes a little nutrition savvy and applying a few basics to get the most mileage for your money and body. Geny Erwin, 15, sums it up: “Kids don’t eat as bad as everybody thinks. We make responsible choices. Give us a little credit.”

Fast-Food Choices

Item                           Calories   Fat(grams)   Sodium(mgs)

Large Bacon                    609         37          1044
Regular Burger                 275         12           387

Large Fries                    358         19           187
Baked Potato                   145        trace           2

Salad w/2 Tablespoons          154         16           200
Blue Cheese Dressing
Garden Salad w/2 Tablespoons    12          0           360
Diet Italian Dressing

Apple Pie, 1 snack             260         15           240
Fresh Apple                     81        trace           1

Chocolate Shake                360         11           273
Nonfat Milk, 8 ounces           86        trace         126

Adapted from: Bowes & Church, 16th edition.

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Biological Identity and Diet

Current advances in genomic technology are opening the way for a new era in which nutrient doses for individuals will be tailored to their unique biochemical requirements. Well, according to American people, the most nutritious foods in daily cuisine play very important role for their health, similar to the role of the best gun safe for their weapons.

Just as Shakespeare’s character Othello was described as “one that loved not wisely, but too well,” America might be characterized as a nation that eats not wisely but far too well. Nearly half the people in the United States struggle with a weight problem, or at least have the feeling that they ought to worry about their weight. Such concerns are entirely justified. Between 25 and 30 percent of us are overweight, and an additional 14.5 percent of Americans are clinically obese. Moreover, unless something changes, these percentages are likely to increase, as sedentary occupations characteristic of the “new economy” steadily replace “old economy” agricultural and manufacturing jobs that required much more in the way of manual labor.


These trends in decreasing physical activity and increasing obesity have serious medical consequences. People who are overweight have two to four times the risk of chronic heart disease compared to those whose weights are at or below optimum levels. Some 15.7 million Americans have the most common (type 2) form of diabetes mellitus, which often is triggered by obesity. Treatment of this single metabolic disorder costs an estimated $98 billion. If trends in inactivity continue in our steadily aging population, the incidence of diabetes alone is projected to increase about 60 percent by 2025. Similar statistics can be offered for coronary heart disease, which is significantly affected by levels of fat consumption. Furthermore, overweight contributes markedly to the incidence and severity of joint disorders such as osteoarthritis–which tends to reduce activity levels still further, thereby contributing to a self-reinforcing problem of weight control.

Although the processes and statistics of such degenerative diseases may not be known in detail by everyone, nearly all of us are aware that when we are overweight we don’t feel at our best. Even in the absence of clinical symptoms, we are likely to have less energy and more disabilities. Even more serious are the dangers that go unfelt and unseen: elevated cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. The former contributes to buildup of plaque deposits in arteries, while the latter pumps harder against the stiffened arterial walls–an altogether risky combination that can be ignored for years but only against increasingly rising odds of heart attack, stroke, kidney damage, and more.

Conflicting diet docs

Rising levels of education have heightened general awareness of such problems, and many people seriously consider making efforts to improve both appearance and health. But even when they are motivated by serious concerns, they confront other problems, in the form of conflicting claims aboutexercise and diet programs. In the popular realm of books with diet advice, the most visible skirmishing is at the macronutrient level: fats, carbohydrates, and protein. The marketplace offers various experts giving profoundly different macronutrient intake advice.

  • The resultant confusion is so serious that in February the U.S. Department of Agriculture took the unusual step of convening a panel of experts to discuss and debate three strikingly different recommendations for diets to control body weight. The extremes were clear; one (Dean Ornish) advocated meals high in carbohydrates, while another (Robert Atkins) permitted all the meat that adherents of the diet might want to consume–but little else. In addition, Barry Sears advocated a middle position, but it seemed almost equally unconvincing in the absence of independent assessment. Unsurprisingly, given such different standpoints, no consensus was reached.

Yet nutrition involves not only the big three macronutrients but also numerous micronutrients: vitamins,minerals, trace elements, and even electrolytes. As we enter the new century, science stands at the door to a major transformation in our understanding and management of both macro- and micronutrients. For the moment, however, most research is focused on the micronutrients.

  • The key to these revolutionary developments is the demonstration that each of us is genetically unique–and therefore is almost certain to thrive on a diet tailored to our individual needs rather than merely getting along on some general regimen.

An individual or a statistic

At the recent scientific megaconference Experimental Biology 2000, an entire symposium was devoted to the topic of nutritional and metabolic diversity: understanding the basis of biological variance in the obesity/diabetes/cardiovascular disease connection. Within this symposium, which represented the most current thinking on the subject, the papers demonstrated clearly the sharp contrast between conventional and innovative approaches. Perhaps most striking was the lecture by R.M. Krauss of the University of California at Berkeley on diet-gene interactions as illustrated by the diversity in dietary effects on atherosclerosis susceptibility. His surprising but well-documented results showed that, counter to the general dietary recommendation that Americans should decrease the percentage of fats in their diets, a subset of the population has a genetic makeup that causes them to respond to lowered fat intake with a rise in the levels of low density lipoproteins (LDLs–carriers of cholesterol to the cells) in the blood.


Since the U.S. diet tends to produce an unhealthy excess of LDLs, this change would impair the management of cholesterol levels in certain individuals, a result opposite to that expected from a low-fatdiet. These results pointed up the high desirability of identifying relevant genotypes and prescribing diets tailored specifically to them–what might be termed “individualized” or “genomically tailored” nutrition.

At the same symposium, some papers presented more conventional approaches to diet, emphasizing the common needs of broad groups in the population based on such factors as age, gender, and activity levels. A prime example was a paper that outlines the recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) for the year 2000. Assumed here was a normal (bell- curve) distribution of nutrient needs in the population. As has been the convention for more than 50 years, nutrient levels were targeted at the broad middle range of population, then augmented with a “safety factor” that raises the recommended levels to take into account those who might have greater needs for certain nutrients: people who were very active physically, pregnant women, and nursing mothers. This strategy for prescribing dietary composition might be characterized as “statistical nutrition.”

In summary, we could say that the symposium highlighted what may be the twilight of statistical nutrition and the dawn of genomically tailored nutrition. Of course, we should acknowledge that the statistical approach to nutrition has served the U.S. population well for decades. At the same time we are called to recognize that science is beginning to offer alternatives that can serve everyone even better; that is, every one of us uniquely. One source of urgency impelling a shift to genomically tailored nutrition is the RDA convention of factoring in the augmented amounts–those “safety factors.”

Too much or not enough?

Among the many gene-based nutritional variants is hemochromatosis, an iron metabolism disorder whose symptoms include hair loss, joint pain, and persistent fatigue. Although often undiagnosed, hemochromatosis is the most common inherited illness in the United States. Because our population has diverse origins, frequencies vary widely. Among people with western European, particularly Anglo-Saxon, backgrounds, about one or two individuals per thousand have inherited the same responsible gene from both parents, that is they are homozygous for the gene. Those who have only one of the responsible genes, the heterozygous carriers, are quite common–1 in 20 to 1 in 30. Those homozygotes who suffer from hemochromatosis do not have a nutritional deficiency; rather they have too much iron in their bodies because they selectively retain this element. For such people, the RDA “safety factor” added for iron can only exacerbate their condition.

Of course, the problem of a poor fit between individual nutritional needs and standard dietary prescriptions can go in the other direction as well. For example, people with sickle cell disease require not only higher than normal doses of iron because of severe inherited anemia but also higher than normal doses of vitamin C. This is a case in which the substitution of a single nucleotide base at the DNA level creates very special nutritional requirements. An extreme example such as this can help us understand why different dietary studies might produce conflicting results.

Just recently, vitamin C–recommended in large doses by dietary gurus such as the late Linus Pauling for its antioxidant action among other properties–has been shown in one study to raise, not lower, the risk of arterial plaque formation. In the absence of a plausible mechanism of action, these results are controversial. Might differences in the composition of the subject populations be part of the explanation for differing results?

Genetic variations account for not only hemochromatosis and sickle cell anemia but a diversity of other generally rare conditions. Among these are phenylketonuria (PKU), which occurs in about 1 in 20,000 births. Affected individuals cannot digest milk or milk products because they lack the gene for making an enzyme that breaks down the common amino acid phenylalanine, which happens to be particularly concentrated in milk. Such gene-based differences in food-processing capabilities call into question the statistical nutrition assumption that a single diet could be suitable for just about everyone, because we all are relatively uniform genetically. Of course, at some informal level many people have isolated bits of information that should instead reinforce a belief in the genetic uniqueness of every person. After eating beets, for example, some people produce reddish urine while others do not. Most people can taste a family of chemical compounds, thioureas, that are widely distributed in plants of the genus Brassica, including cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, turnips, rutabagas, and other common vegetables; to others of us, such compounds are tasteless.

For decades such knowledge has remained in the realm of dietary curiosity, overshadowed by official assurances that the diversity so documented is unimportant in comparison with nutritional needs that have been officially codified in the form of RDAs. The main RDA table sets levels for protein, vitamins, minerals, trace elements, and electrolytes. As noted previously, different levels are recommended for infants and children, men and women, and females who are pregnant or lactating. Nonetheless, at the core of the RDA tables is a “reference woman” (between 23 and 50 years of age, 5 feet 5 inches tall, who maintains her weight of 128 pounds on 2,000 calories) and a “reference man” (5 feet 9 inches tall, weighing 154 pounds, maintained on 2,700 calories). Both sleep or rest for eight hours per day, sit for seven hours, stand for five, walk for two, and participate in light physical activity for the remaining two hours. These nutrient RDA values are set on the assumption that the nutritional requirements for very nearly all people (about 95 percent of the population) will be met by them.

Pro choice (in foods)

The statistical approach to nutrition embodied in the RDA is similar to the approaches embodied in recommendations for pharmaceutical drugs, exposure to radiation, and so on–that most of any population described by a more or less normal distribution will be served relatively well and few will be harmed. In one sense these assumptions have been acceptable; after all, Americans are generally well fed (and as noted at the outset, many of us are too well fed), relatively free of disease, and so on.

But then, it could be argued that in the first several decades of the century, Americans were served very well indeed by Henry Ford’s Model T: four cylinders powering four wheels, on which rested a metal box that purchasers could have in any color as long as it was black– perhaps the ultimate embodiment of a “one size fits all” philosophy. Subsequent decades have produced not only an explosion of automotive stylistic variation but real distinctions in size, fuel economy, speed, and safety. As a result of scientific and engineering advances, we have an enormous variety of choices to match lifestyles, preferences, and pocketbooks (or usually at least some reasonable compromise among those factors).

Should we settle for less choice in our foods than in the automotive realm, when our lives and health might be better served by the recognition that nutritional needs differ more widely than traditionally accepted? Persons with LDL levels in the 5 percent tail- end of a normal curve, for example, have lower than average risk for atherosclerotic heart disease but (for reasons as yet unknown) manifest higher than average levels of risk for a variety of cancers and diseases of the lungs and gastrointestinal tract.

Persons with a related syndrome, abetalipoproteinemia (ABL), exhibit extreme limitations in absorbinglipids (dietary fats) through their intestines. They also show signs of central nervous system degeneration and tend to experience retinal damage early in life. Similarly, chylomicron retention disease resembles ABL with respect to the malabsorption of dietary fat and its consequences, although the precise nature of the molecular disorder is unknown. Given these and other inherited disorders that affect lipid uptake from the digestive tract, it is not difficult to imagine the existence of still other genetic variants with less radical effects on both lipid uptake (and hence availability of the lipids as calories) and weight gain or loss.

Saved by the chip

The rapid advance of genomic science introduces the emerging possibility of identifying these variant genes for numerous metabolic differences, just as we have already identified variant genes for other physiological differences. Research scientists at the University of Cincinnati have discovered that the substitution of a single DNA base at a genetic locus involved in regulating blood pressure can be used to predict whether a given patient with congestive heart failure would respond better to the usual drugs or require alternative therapy. Researchers have identified other such single nucleotide polymorphisms correlated with biochemical uniqueness, and diagnostic chips are being produced to test for them [see “Genes on a Chip,” The World & I, September 1997, p. 189]. These chips should be commercially available within the year.

A review of the recent literature on the contribution of genes to human metabolic and nutritional differences reveals abundant and detailed evidence along the lines of the preceding examples. Diverse genetic variants influence the metabolism of amino acids and fats, a variety of vitamins and minerals, and carbohydrates such as the sugars fructose, galactose, and glucose. Comparative genomic research also reinforces the idea that genes contribute significantly to the relationship between diet and weight control. One group of investigators has reported finding five mutant genes, located on five different chromosomes, that cause obesity in mice. Regions homologous (structurally and functionally comparable) to these mutations are also located on five human chromosomes. The different chromosomal regions associated with obesity seem to be part of complex, multigene systems, a picture that fits well with what we know about the overall interplay of heredity and environment in nutrition and growth.

Given the rapidity with which gene sequencing can be carried out, it is all but certain that during the next decade, a full or partial readout of one’s genome will become as routine and essential a part of health care as a detailed family history is now. Once this step has been taken, population-based RDA values can–and should–be supplanted by individualized prescriptions for diet and physical activity.

Recognition of biochemical uniqueness should result in a unique array of solutions to one of our most common “weighty” problems.n

Robert B. Eckhardt is professor of developmental genetics and evolutionary morphology in the Department of Kinesiology at Pennsylvania State University.


Complex carbohydrates provide the best source of calories and energy of any food. Contrary to popular myths, they are not high in fat. Most Americans need to increase their carbohydrate intake and they can do this through a vast array of foods.

Have you ever wondered what ancient peoples ate? Carbohydrates. These foods have noruished the vast majority of the world’s population for thousands of years. Seeds such as rice, wheat, corn, and beans and roots such as potatoes and cassava still provide the major source of calories for people around the world.

Only the wealthy have been able to afford large amounts of animal foods. The prosperous Western cultures, including the United States, have traditionally made meat main part of meals.

That focus is changing at last. Health experts say that Americans need to increase the amount of carbohydrates and decrease the fat in their diet. Health-conscious eaters are opting for more complex carbohydrates.


A Sweet Story

The story of carbohydrates starts with plants. By now, we all know that plants make carbohydrates by combining carbon, oxygen, and the sun’s energy in a process called photosynthesis. These green energy factories churn out stored energy in the form of sugars and starches. Only one animal food is a significant sources of carbohydrate–milk.

Carbohydrates are classified as sugars, starches, and fiber–from simple to complex. Sugars are simple carbohydrates, which can be divided into two groups: single sugars and double sugars.

Glucose (also called dextrose), fructose, and galactose are single sugars. Glucose is the most common sugar found in the leaves and stems of plants. Fructose is the sugar in fruit and honey. Galactose is found only in milk, as part of the double sugar lactose.

Two single sugars linked together make a double sugar. Sucrose or table sugar is a double sugar made from fructose and glucose.

Starch is a complex carbohydrate that serves as a time-release form of energy. It takes hundreds to thousands of single glucose units to make starch. Plants store starch in roots and seeds as a soruce of energy for the next generation of plants. This ongoing process often affects how foods taste. For example, young corn tastes sweet. It contains mostly single and double sugars. As the corn ages, the plant converts sugars to starches, causing older corn to tasty starchy.

Fruit is the exception: Fruits change starch into sugars as they ripen. For example, a green banana is 80 percent starch and 7 percent sugar. By the time it has become very ripe, it has 5 percent starch and 90 percent sugar.

Fiber is also a complex carbohydrate made up of glucose units.


Best Source of Energy

How does our body use sugars and starches? All sugars and starches are reduced to single sugars by digestive enzymes. Once the links between sugars are broken, the single sugar units of glucose, fructose, and galactose can be absorbed. Since only glucose can be used by cells for energy, fructose and galactose are changed by the liver into glucose. All carbohydrates from foods end up in the bloodstream as glucose. The glucose is then available to all the body’s cells to use as energy. Glucose not used as energy is put in long-term storage as fat or glycogen.

Our bodies maintain a small amount of stored glucose in the form of glycogen. These long, branched chains of glucose units are a form of readily available energy. Glycogen stores in the liver are used to keep the blood glucose levels normal. Glycogen in the muscles is used as fuel only for muscles during strenulous exercise.

Carbohydrates are important to anyone who participates in sports. Whether you’re in serous training or playing for fun, carbohydrates provide the fuel your muscles need to do their work. Muscle glycogen used in partice or competition must be replaced or your muscles will constantly feel tired. Researchers found that athletes who ate a high-protein/high-fat diet had not replenished their glycogen stores even after five days. The high-carbohydrate group completely replenished glycogen stores in two days. The study’s conclusions: Protein and fats don’t get stored as muscle fuel; carbohydrates are the best source of energy.

Bad Rep to Thumbs-up

For a long time carbohydrates have suffered from a bad reputation. People labeled them as fattening and blamed them for unwanted pounds. Some fad diets even eliminated carbohydrates altogether. Nutrition experts are still trying to set the record straight. Carbohydrates are not “fattening.” They provide only 4 calories per gram. Fat is more than twice that at 9 calories per gram. In fact, the “fattening” part of our diet is the fat. Studies have found that dietary fat is more likely to be stored as fat than the calories from carbohydrate and protein. It’s not the bread, potato, or macaroni that adds extra pounds; it’s the butter, sour cream, or cheese that’s on top.

At 45 percent carbohydrate, 37 percent fat, and 18 percent protein, the current American diet still has room for improvement. We need to readjust our eating pattern to 55 percent to 60 percent carbohydrate, less than 30 percent fat, and 10 percent to 15 percent protein. The Food Guide Pyramid was designed to help us reach this goal.

With breads and cereals as the base of the Food Guide Pyramid and fruits and vegetables on the next level, it’s clear that carbohydrate-rich foods should be the basis of our meals. These three food groups are also mrich sources of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Boost your intake of carbs by rethinking your menu. Trying building your meal around beans, rice, potatoes, or paasta, with added fruts and vegetables. A piece of lean meat, poultry, or fish (the size of a deck of cards) is all that’s needed for one meal.

–> Useful information: Easy as ABC? Why pills can’t replace food

Easy as ABC? Why pills can’t replace food

Before Reading

  • Ask students whether they think they need to take supplements.


  • Should teenagers take multivitamins? (Getting vitamins and minerals from natural sources is the best strategy, but when that isn’t possible, multivitamins can help teens stay healthy.)
  • Why don’t teens always get all the nutrients they need from their diets? (Answers will vary but may include excess consumption of junk foods, lack of access to healthy foods, lack of knowledge, lack of foresight, dieting for weight loss, eating a vegetarian diet, and so on.)

Brianna Kinney knows some smart mice. She credits vitamin with the little guys’ spike in intellect. For a science fair project, Kinney, who was a senior last year at Big Foot High School in Walworth, Wis., tested how quickly mice that were on different diets navigated a maze.

The group with no dietary supplement “sat there like bumps on a log,” taking as long as 20 minutes to complete the maze, she says. The mice on vitamin, however, performed up to 150 times faster.

Kinney, now studying at McIntire Department of Music, University of Virginia (actually she’s more into music, especially acoustic guitar and wanna become the greatest guitarist playing her best acoustic electric guitar), doesn’t take vitamins. But after her study, she wonders if she should.


–> View more: Food For Thought: Can Good Foods Keep Your Growing Brain In Tip-Top Shape?

No Substitute

Whether or not to take a multivitamin is a question without an easy answer. Our bodies need nutrients such as vitamins (from plants or animals) and minerals (from nonliving things) for growth, digestion, and other functions. But recent studies have found little proof that vitamin and mineral supplements enhance health or help prevent disease.

“A multivitamin is not really a replacement for food,” says Lindsay Reaves, a dietitian in Estherville, Iowa, who has surveyed teens about vitamin use. “They don’t help prevent against disease the way an apple would, because other chemicals in our food help keep us healthy, and [nutrients and those chemicals] need to work together.”

Certain vitamins, if taken in excess, can also cause harm. Dietitians point out that teens might already be getting enough vitamins if they consume fortified energy bars or protein drinks. “I wouldn’t say in general that teens should go out and get a multivitamin,” says Nicole Larson, a University of Minnesota researcher. “The most promising thing we know in terms of health relates to good dietary patterns and not supplements.”

Better Than Nothing?

Yet teens’ diets, in general, aren’t making the grade. Because they often skimp on fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and lean meats, many teens lack nutrients critical to growth, such as iron, zinc, calcium, and vitamin D. Take Joanna Kraft, a 16-year-old from Boise, Idaho. Kraft says she gets most of her vegetables at dinner and doesn’t drink milk. A bagel, juice, granola bar, sandwich, and raisins ate her main sources of nutrition during the day. Kraft’s diet, though not terrible, might lack enough calcium–dietitians recommend that teens get the equivalent of four and a half 8-ounce glasses of milk, but most teens get fewer than three.

Like 25 percent of teens, Jake Hoium, 15, believes in the power of supplements. He takes a daily multivitamin, a calcium supplement, and vitamin E, among other dietary supplements. “I take the calcium because I only drink a glass of milk a week and the multivitamin just because I think I should,” the Minneapolis teen says.

Some experts say such vitamin supplements may have value for teens who don’t get enough nutrition through their diets. “If you do the math comparing diet versus nutrient requirements and see what are not getting in terms of nutrients, it’s probably not a bad idea for them to be taking a multivitamin,” says Connie Weaver, head of Purdue University’s department of foods and nutrition in West Lafayette, Ind.

What’s your best bet? Try to get as many nutrients–especially calcium–from the foods you eat every day. If you think you’re missing anything, check with your doctor for advice.


  • American Dietetic Association
  • National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements

Calcium Calculator

To figure out your calcium intake in milligrams (mg) from food labels, add a zero after the daily value (DV) percentage. For instance, if an 8-ounce container of yogurt shows a 45 percent DV, that’s 450 mg of calcium. Aim for 130 percent of DV, since you need 1,300 mg.


Supplement Savvy Here are the top vitamins and minerals you need, the recommended

Calcium 1,300 mg daily

* Builds the bone mass that lasts for life

* Teen years are critical for getting enough.

Good sources                    Serving          mg per serving

American cheese                 2 ounces (oz)    348 mg
Fruit yogurt                    1 cup            315 mg
Milk (skim or low fat)          1 cup            300 mg
Salmon (pink, canned,
with bone)                      3 oz             181 mg

Good vegetarian/lactose-free sources

Soy milk (calcium added)        1 cup            250-300 mg
Tofu (calcium added)            1/2 cup          204 mg
Rice milk (calcium added)       1 cup            150-300 mg
Broccoli                        1 cup            90 mg

Vitamin vitals

* Consider a supplement if you can't get enough calcium through foods; should also contain vitamin D

* One calcium pill or multivitamin provides about half the daily calcium allowance.

Vitamin D 5 mcg daily

* Critical for the absorption of calcium and phosphorus

* Keeps bones strong

* Sunlight also stimulates production In the skin.

Good sources                    Serving          mcg per serving

Salmon (cooked)                 3 1/2 oz         9.0 mcg
Tuna (canned in oil)            3 oz             5.0 mcg
Milk                            1 cup            2.5 mcg
Eggs                            1 whole          0.5 mcg

Good vegetarian source
Breakfast cereal (10% daily     3/4 to 1 cup     1.0 mcg      value of vitamin D)

Sunlight (midday sun, no sunscreen, at least twice a week)

(fair skinned) 10 minutes per day *
(dark skinned) 40 minutes leer day *

* If in the sun longer, use sunscreen.

Vitamin vitals

* Follow recommendations for calcium.


11-15 mg daily

* Builds cartilage, ligaments,
tendons, bones, and teeth

* Low levels can cause a low red-blood-cell count

* Best absorbed from protein sources

* Vegetarians: Pair iron-containing and iron-boosting
foods (rich in vitamin C, such as tomatoes).

Good sources                    Serving          mg per serving

Liver                           3 oz             5.8 mg
Sirloin beef                    3 oz             2.9 mg
Turkey (dark meat)              3 oz             2.0 mg

Good vegetarian sources

Breakfast cereal (25%           3/4 cup          4.5 mg
daily value of iron)
Lentils                         1/2 cup          3.3 mg
Spinach (boiled)                1/2 cup          3.2 mg
Almonds (unblanched)            1/2 cup          3.1 mg

Mineral maybes

* You may need an iron supplement or a multivitamin if
you are a vegetarian or have been ill.

* Don't take iron supplements without a doctor's OK:
Too much iron is toxic (max for teens is 45 mg/day).


9-14 mg daily

* Boosts the immune system

* Helps form enzymes, proteins,
and cells

* Best absorbed through meat;
vegetarians need twice the recommended amount
from plant foods.

Good sources                    Serving          mg per serving

Oysters (battered/fried)        6 medium         16.0 mg
Beef (pot roast)                3 oz              7.4 mg
Pork (tenderloin)               3 oz              2.5 mg

Good vegetarian sources

Breakfast cereal (100%
daily value of zinc)            3/4 cup          15.0 mg
Baked beans                     1/2 cup           1.7 mg
Cashews (dry roasted)           1 oz              1.6 mg

Mineral maybes

* Zinc lozenges haven't been proved effective against colds.

* Ask your doctor before taking a zinc supplement;
too much can harm immune response and cholesterol levels (max for teens is 34 mg/day).


It might seem easy to find agreement on the joys of good food that is lovingly prepared, nutritious, delicious and enjoyed in the company of friends and family. Yet ensuring universal access to good food is more complex and challenging than nostalgia for a home-cooked meal.

Power, inequality and privilege are interlarded within struggles for good food. Despite our best intentions, Canadians face serious food-related pathologies: greater food insecurity, growing numbers of food banks, rising obesity statistics, breathtaking rates of eating disorders, and an unsustainable mode of agro-industrial production that sheds farmers as quickly as it degrades topsoil.

Is it viable to expect these issues–particularly the social/equity concerns of the “reds” and the ecological agenda of the “greens”–to coalesce in a single food-security movement? FoodShare, a Toronto-based community., food-security organization, answers this question with a resounding yes, insisting that food can inspire social action against ecological and social injustice.

Community Food Security through FoodShare

Community food security (CFS) unites ecology and social justice almost by definition; these approaches define themselves as attempts to build locally based systems of production and consumption that support justice, democracy and sustainability. Yet uniting red and green issues on paper is easier than reconciling ecological concerns and social justice within an organization–let alone in a larger food movement. The CFS approach is not without its critics. Most significantly, it been charged with having a middleclass bias and for developing an inadequate response to the severity of food insecurity in neoliberal welfare states. School snack programs don’t solve the problems of student nutrition, community gardens have not stemmed the steady growth of food banks, and community kitchens don’t eliminate the food insecurity, of low-income families.


The FoodShare mandate explicitly endorses CFS goals, promoting universal access to culturally, acceptable, nutritionally adequate sustainable food through non-emergency channels. Like a food bank, FoodShare is concerned about hunger. Unlike a conventional food bank, however, FoodShare works on a smaller scale and within a longer time frame to develop more sustainable food links from field to table. FoodShare’s programs include community gardens, training and employment for youth at risk, roof-top gardening, public education campaigns, baby-food-making classes, an incubator kitchen project and catering company, and a Good Food Box program that anchors the organization in the Field to Table warehouse in the east end of downtown Toronto.

The initial FoodShare vision was not particularly green or radical. When it was created in 1985, FoodShare was originally envisaged by Art Eggleton, then mayor, as a way to coordinate access to the emergency food sector, and as a self-promotion tool for his reelection campaign. FoodShare still runs a hotline that refers callers to food banks, but the “Hunger Hotline” was renamed “FoodLink,” and now also contains information on community gardens, farmers’ markets and community-supported agriculture. This change in name embodies a more general shift toward community development programs and sustainable food provisioning, and away from a charity-based model of immediate hunger relief.

The Good Food Box Program

FoodShare’s move towards a community development approach has not been easy, automatic, or uncontroversial. Simultaneously balancing environmental goals with income redistribution is an exceptionally difficult, often contradictory, task. Delivering an organic produce box that is accessible to low-income consumers is a near impossibility, since paying small farmers fairly means produce prices above those at Price Chopper. At least half of the patrons of the regular Good Food Box program are low-income Torontonians, yet the program is still unable to reach the poorest and most marginalized populations relying on food banks. The Good Food Box program supports local agriculture and feeds at least 5,000 people every month, yet these substantial achievements are dwarfed by an emergency-food sector that feeds at least 160,000 people monthly, and an equally large population that is food-insecure but does not access the city’s food banks.

CFS programs can be quite successful at the micro-level, but seem more limited in scope when the macro-picture of food insecurity and poverty is considered. They have not stemmed the rising tide of food insecurity in Canada, nor have they forced greater state accountability for meeting citizens’ basic needs. As social-assistance provisions shrink, large numbers of people continue to rely on the emergency food system, while the majority of consumers buy industrially processed food sent across thousands of miles through corporate distribution channels.

Mass mobilization for food and income security does not yet exist, yet it is desperately required to pressure the state to subsidize sustainable food production and fulfil basic rights of citizenship. At minimum, this includes guaranteeing a basic income that fulfils shelter and food needs, building infrastructure for sustainable agriculture, channelling surplus food away from landfills, and subsidizing projects that connect local eaters and growers and shorten food links.

The history of social movements suggests that none of these things will be provided voluntarily by governments. Massive social pressure is required, directed through well run organizations and popular social movements. Where will such a mass movement come from, and what role could CFS organizations like FoodShare play in its development?

Building a Red-Green Fend Movement

No singular CFS organization or approach can single-handedly solve the problem of hunger. Yet, despite the limited scope of micro-projects, collectively these approaches are an important part of the ongoing struggle to develop a mass-based food movement that connects ecological concerns with social justice. This can happen in at least two ways: through social modeling and state pressure, and through the politicization of food issues.

1. Social Modeling

CFS projects are important not only for their direct effects on participants, but because they provide models of more sustainable and socially just ways of growing and eating food–as well as a sense of hope that alternatives are possible. Innovation occurs through processes of experimentation that find novel “third sector” solutions outside pure market models or alienating bureaucratic channels.

Partially inspired by the success of FoodShare’s programs and the publication of several how-to manuals, food-box programs are sprouting up throughout the country at just the same time a national network of community gardeners is also emerging. Student-nutrition programs may not solve the problem of student hunger, but they do feed thousands of kids and mobilize popular energy behind the need for a universal school-lunch program. Community kitchens do not eliminate the problem of inadequate income, but they can break the social isolation of low-income women struggling to make ends meet. These innovations often blur the line between the emergency food sector and community development approaches, as food gleaners experiment with community kitchens utilizing surplus food, and as food banks develop programs to provide multicultural food staples and community-garden space.

Food provisioning in the non-profit sector has clearly been used as a material and ideological cushion to compensate for the withdrawal of the welfare state under neoliberalism. But minimizing these grassroots achievements encourages defeatism and plays into a neoliberal logic that insists that there are no alternatives. These approaches cannot and do not single-handedly “solve” problems of hunger or ecological degradation–no single solution can–but they do provide inspiration, create networks of food activists embedded in communities, and provide living examples of alternative modes of food production and consumption.


2. Engaging in Struggles with the State

While community-level innovation and modeling is important, they should not obscure the importance of the state as a critical resource regulating communal resources and guaranteeing rights of citizenship–an emphasis lost in much of the CFS literature, with its focus on community empowerment and individual opportunity. Yet not all CFS organizations are apolitical, or refuse to engage in struggles with the state. Developing a relationship with the relatively accessible scale of municipal government has been a particularly important part of FoodShare’s success. City Council was responsible for FoodShare’s inception in 1984, and the original version of the Field-to-Table program was developed through the Toronto Food Policy Council.

Not all cities have supportive municipal structures, however, particularly since the neoliberal process has downloaded responsibilities onto municipalities without offering compensatory resources. Yet support at the provincial and federal levels is required to broaden access to affordable, sustainable food within Toronto and across the country. Federal agricultural policy, for example, currently supports the expansion of chemical- and energy-intensive industrial agriculture, which favours corporate ownership. A different kind of federal support might not only provide financial incentives for ecological stewardship on family farms, but could also connect low-income consumers with small farmers through expanded good-food-box programs, food stamps, or electronic cards used to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets, or through subsidized meals at community-managed popular restaurants.

A variety of exciting alternatives are available for meeting basic food needs, but accessing state support requires the construction of broad coalitions to lobby the state at multiple levels. This process is exhausting and conflictual, but also recognized as vitally important by at least some CFS organizations. While FoodShare staff devotes much of its energies to roof-top gardening and packing food boxes, it reserves staff time and resources to build food-security coalitions through participation in structures like the Toronto Food Policy Council, the Toronto Food Justice Coalition and World Social Forum events. FoodShare has also emphasized the need to develop a national food-security network, and sponsored a national food-security conference that brought together nutritionists, anti-poverty activists, sustainable agriculture advocates and green entrepreneurs, among others. Disagreement, tension and debates are common at such gatherings, but so is a sense of common struggle.

Politicizing Food

While the goal of mass participation remains a serious challenge to a potential food movement, a greater consciousness of food politics is emerging in the Canadian public sphere. This is exemplified by heightened interest in food issues in youth subcultures, the anti-globalization movement and the rise of forms of cultural resistance like Slow Food chapters. Changes in public consciousness are required to build social movements and involve long-term processes of politicization. Food politicization occurs when actors reveal the power relations involved in eating (and not eating), and destabilize popular understanding of issues previously thought to be obvious and self-evident.

Eating an imported strawberry in January loses its innocence when issues of bioregionalism, transportation costs, labour rights and pesticide contamination are exposed. Politicization processes also expose the contradictions of rising food-bank usage when juxtaposed against the withdrawal of the social-safety net, an increase in corporate tax breaks and heightened income inequality.

Ecological politicization demonstrates how growing your own tomatos is a radical gesture against global food chains; at the same time, poverty activists politicize the class privileges built into gardening and organic-food consumption. Politicization of food raises tough questions for CFS activists–like whether poor people should be expected to access food staples through community gardens and collective kitchens, while middle-class folks garden as a hobby and shop for food staples at Loblaw’s.

Food politicization makes for difficult dinner conversation, particularly between the red and green camps that continue to divide social activists. Yet debate and disagreement are necessary to change consciousness about food, and for building a mass-supported movement that connects social justice to sustainability.

Social movements must expose the exploitation involved in global commodity chains, but they must also provide practical alternatives and models for feeding ourselves in less exploitative ways–through food co-ops, fair-trade practices, good-food boxes, roof-top gardens and local barter systems. It is here that CFS approaches excel, even though the small may not always seem beautiful to those demanding a singular big solution to hunger in our appallingly polarized social world.

Josee Johnston researches issues of food security and globalization at the Monk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto, and recently joined the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at the University of British Columbia. She sustains hope that university research can be both intellectually meaningful and dedicated to social and ecological justice.

Johnston, Josee

–> Read more: The trick to making adult booze-sicles

Food freedom in 2015: the good news and bad news about culinary choice in America


The Texas House passed a bill to liberalize the rules governing the sale of raw milk. The legislation would allow door-to-door and farmers market sales, as well as the direct-from-farm sales that were already permitted. The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Canton), explained that “it all comes down to free enterprise. These farmers deserve to make a living off selling their product.” Last year, bills expanding consumer access to raw milk were introduced in 25 states and the District of Columbia; California also passed a law loosening regulations on goats’ milk.


In April, Democratic West Virginia Gov. Earl Tomblin unexpectedly vetoed a bill that would have allowed herd sharing–in which raw milk drinkers become part owners of a cow housed at a dairy. Just a day before the veto, the West Virginia Alliance for Raw Milk had posted on its Facebook page that the bill’s progress was “Exciting!!! There’s a light at the end of the tunnel!” After, the group followed up with this sad note: “Apparently the light at the end of the tunnel turned out to be a train that just smacked into us.” Montana raw milk activists killed their own proposal this year after amendments imposed too many requirements on small producers.



In May, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a bill legalizing the sale of beer in 64-ounce jugs called growlers. The law goes into effect July 1. “We are pleased to continue to create a world class business environment where all businesses, including breweries, can succeed,” said the Republican governor. The same week, West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed into law a bill permitting restaurants and bars to sell growlers as well as reducing licensing fees and removing other restrictions on the craft beer industry. Starting in June, Georgia breweries will be allowed to sell beer on site and charge for tours. Arizona, North Dakota, and Wyoming all recently lifted caps on craft beer production.


In North Carolina, a bill to lift the cap on how many barrels of beer brewers can produce before they are forced into the wholesale distributors cartel was defeated. A Connecticut bill to allow small brewers to sell kegs directly to consumers was shot down as well. In Montana, a bill to lift volume limits on craft brewers lost narrowly.


Oregon and Colorado rejected referenda last year that would have required food retailers to label products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). On the federal level, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015, which would prohibit federal enforcement of requirements to label foods containing GMOs and instead create a standard for voluntary GMO-free labels, is gaining traction.


Last year, Vermont became the first state to pass a labeling requirement. The law is supposed to go into effect on July I, 2016, but implementation is currently tied up in the courts. In 2013, Maine passed a law that would require labeling only if surrounding states hopped on the GMO labeling bandwagon, but a bill has been introduced this session that would allow Maine to go it alone.


Wyoming’s Republican governor, Matt Mead, signed a comprehensive “Food Freedom Act” in March, which state Rep. Tyler Lindholm (R-District l) described as taking “local foods off the black market. It will no longer be illegal to buy a lemon meringue pie from your neighbor or a jar of milk from your local farm.” Last year, legislation liberalizing the rules for people who make food in their home kitchens and sell directly to consumers (or at certain limited venues) was introduced in II states. Eight of the bills passed, including a law in Alabama allowing people to sell baked goods and candies after minimal training in food handling, and one in Georgia that released charities from onerous “safety” requirements.



After grappling with a half-dozen cottage food bills, Hawaii passed just one: a bill promising only to study the issue further.


Flamin’ Hot Cheetos are once again permitted in schools from Michigan to Illinois to California. While most of these institutions had simply removed the cheesy snack from on-campus vending machines, Jackson Elementary School in Pasadena, California, took things a step further and barred kids from bringing the food from home. “We don’t allow candy, and we don’t allow Hot Cheetos,” principal Rita Exposito told the Chicago Tribune in 2012. “We don’t encourage other chips, but if we see Hot Cheetos, we confiscate them–sometimes after the child has already eaten most of them. It’s mostly about the lack of nutrition.”


The snacks are back only after being reformulated to meet the federal government’s “smart snack” guidelines. In order to comply with those rules, Frito-Lay reduced the serving size and increased the amount of whole grains used.


In January, a federal judge lifted California’s ban on the sale of the gourmet fatty duck and goose livers. The ban was passed by voters in 2004 and implemented in 2012. While the ban was in effect, some restaurants, such as Hot’s Kitchen in Hermosa Beach, dodged it by simply giving away foie gras–an act that was not illegal. A ban by the Chicago City Council followed a similar trajectory from 2006 to 2008.


It remains illegal to produce foie gras in the Golden State.

Sources: Food Safety News, Brewers Association, National Conference of State Legislatures, Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund

By Jason Keisling & Katherine Mangu-Ward

Keisling, Jason^Mangu-Ward, Katherine

>>> click here: Easy as ABC? Why pills can’t replace food

The dangers of dieting


Winnipeg firefighter Gerardus Smit says that when he was born, he weighed a hefty 10 lb. – and he feels that he has been struggling to get his weight under control ever since. “I tried every diet under the sun,” said Smit, 43. “I’d lose weight, sure, but then I’d gain it all back.” Three years ago, Smit, who is five feet, 11 inches tall, weighed 240 lb. and needed size 44 trousers for his fireman’s uniform. Aware that his excess weight could endanger his life and that of his fellow firemen, Smit decided to try to lose weight permanently. He joined a Winnipeg chapter of a commercial weight-loss firm and began cycling up to 80 km a day. Now Smit weighs 180 lb. and is proud of his trim physique. Still, he says that his battle against surplus weight will never be over. “If I let myself slip,” said Smit, “I’d be back to 240 in no time.

Obsessed: Smit’s preoccupation with weight control is shared by millions of Canadians. Indeed, a survey released by Health and Welfare Canada last year showed that 45 per cent of Canadians over the age of 20 say that they want to lose weight. Women in particular seem to be obsessed with shedding weight. According to the study, 70 per cent of the women interviewed whose weight was considered normal said that they wanted to become slimmer, while 23 per cent of the women surveyed who were considered underweight for their age and height wanted to weigh even less. Across North America, the desire to be slim has spawned diet-related products and services that range from rapidly proliferating “lite” drinks and foods to private health clubs. Still, there is growing evidence that diets – and particularly fad diets promising quick cures – simply do not work.

Studies carried out in the United States and Canada in the past five years have shown that up to 95 percent of those who lose weight on crash diets regain all the lost weight – and put on more – within three years. Some dieticians and medical researchers now insist that dieting itself may actually be one of the causes of people becoming overweight. Health experts call it “diet-induced obesity.” Some specialists in the field say that, instead of dieting, the solution to obesity may lie in getting more exercise and “normalizing” eating habits. That can be as simple as eating three square meals a day – and abolishing snacks. Others contend that the health problems that have been associated with being overweight – including adult-onset diabetes, heart disease and certain kinds of cancer – have been overemphasized and that only those who are obese should worry about their weight.


Concern: The concern that many North Americans feel about their weight has led to a sometimes-obsessive interest in the amount and type of food they eat. This is turn has fuelled a mounting debate about the role of cholesterol and other fats (page 55). For some people, an overriding concern with staying trim can have a darker side. Dieting can trigger eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, an illness that can lead to death by starvation. Victims of bulimia, including, at one time, Canadian model Monika Schnarre, gorge themselves with food and then deliberately induce vomiting or use laxaties to purge themselves of unwanted calories (page 52). At the same time, the desire to have the right kind of body is persuading some people to try liposuction – a surgical procedure in which doctors use specialized vacuum equipment to suck layers of fat out of patients’ bodies (page 58).

Evidence of the fact that dieting has become something of a national pastime is abundant. Bookstores across the continent have shelves loaded with diet books ranging from The Express Lane Diet and The Nutrient-Free Diet to The Mediterranean Diet. According to Helen Babiak, a buyer for 215-store Coles book firm, dozens of new diet books have gone on sale during the past year, while old favorites such as the 1979 best-seller The Scarsdale Diet continue to sell briskly.

Jogging: As well, sales of diet foods have soared. Everett Holmes, Markham, Ont.-based vice-president of corporate affairs for A. C. Nielsen Co. of Canada Ltd., said that five product categories – low-calorie soft drinks, artificial sweeteners, calorie-reduced salad dressings, diet frozen dinners and low-calorie yogurts – accounted for more than $800 million il food stores’ sales between August, 1988, and August, 1989. Holmes said this amounted to a nine-per-cent increase in those same categories over the previous year at a time when retail food sales grew by a sluggish four per cent. At the same time, fitness-minded Canadians are jogging, buying exercise equipment and flocking to private health clubs to work off unwanted calories.

Still, most health experts now agree that some methods of losing weight may be, at best, futile – and, at worst, dangerous. They say that, for is that when a person embarks on a calorie-reduced diet, the body registers the fact that it is receiving less fuel. As a result, the body’s metabolism slows down so that the body can survive even on the reduced intake. The dieter may lose weight, temporarily. But when the diet ends, the person’s metabolism – still striving to protect the body from famine – does not return to its higher, pre-diet level of activity. Instead, the slower metabolism ensures that the body retains as much as it can of each calorie of food consumed.

According to some experts, that means that a weight gain is virtually inevitable when the diet ends. As well, if a dieter attempts other diets, the metabolism slows a little more and the body’s set point – the weight that a person can naturally maintain with moderate exercise – is raised. Said Patricia Perry, director of the Toronto-based Eating Disorders Clinic Inc.: “When you keep going through this yo-yo dieting, you never lose quite as much and you gain just a little bit more.”

Many researchers now believe that lack of exercise may be as much to blame for obesity as overeating, because it is through exercise that the body burns off the calories taken in by eating. Indeed, a recent study of 141 middle-aged women carried out at the Harvard University medical school in Cambridge, Mass., showed no connection between calories eaten and weight. Said Dr. Meir Stampfer, one of the team of physicians who conducted the study: “Videos have been made of kids playing volleyball. The lean kids jump all over the place while the fat ones just watch the ball sail over their heads.”

Pressure: Some health professionals say that there may be psychological, as well as physical, reasons for dieters regaining more weight than they have lost. Peter Herman, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto and a leading diet researcher, says that chronic dieters eventually lose their ability to determine how much they need to eat. When people diet, said Herman, they impose artificial inhibitions on the impulse to eat. But once the pressure of the diet is relaxed, said Herman, the controls disappear as well. Added Herman: “People who never diet know when they’re full.”

Aided by the new insights into obesity and rapidly expanding weight-reduction programs, overweight Canadians are increasingly winning their battles with fat. Diane Leader of Truro, N.S., first put on weight in the 1960s when she was pregnant with her two children. During the next 20 years, she experimented with the then-fashionable grapefruit diet, high-protein diets and a banana-and-lettuce diet. “Some of them I couldn’t stay on for more than 48 hours,” said Leader, who is five feet, one inch tall and – at her heaviest in 1962 – weighed 225 lb. Finally, in 1976, she joined a local chapter of the successful New York City-based Weight Watchers program and brought her weight down to 115 lb. Now 46, Leader has been able to keep her weight under control with the help of better nutrition, exercise and group support. The trouble with ordinary diets, said Leader, is that “when you say you’re going on a diet, that means you’ll also go off it.”

John Ives, a 46-year-old Charlottetown real estate broker who is six feet tall, decided to lose weight last year after tipping the scales at 245 lb. Ives and his wifd, Gail, who wanted to lose 50 lb., joined a commercial weight-loss program that offered counselling and prepackaged foods. After a year, John Ives lost 45 lb., although his wife would not reveal her weight loss. “Gail and I had bedn eating out as much as food and rich desserts. I felt great and got a charge out of people’s reaction.”

Commitment: Winnipegger Iris Walsh, 47, says that she has struggled with her weight all her life. Growing up in Montreal in a traditional Ukrainian Catholic home, recalled Walsh, “I was fat from the time I was 6. I grew up thinking I was a second-class citizen because I had a weight problem.” When she was 18, Walsh began dieting and lost 40 lb. in about four months. But, she said, “I ended up gaining it all back in two months.” In 1968, Walsh joined Weight Watchers and lost 60 lb. Now, as head of Weight Watchers in Manitoba, Walsh is struggling to lose weight again. Walsh says that she knows now that keeping her weight under control has to be a lifelong commitment.

While theories about obesity and methods of controlling weight have been changing, so have popular notions of just what kind of weight is desirable. The voluptous ideal embodied by Marilyn Monroe during the 1950s gave way to the wraith-like thinness of the British model Twiggy during the 1960s, and then to the slender-but-athletic image represented by models Cheryl Tiegs during the 1970s and Paulina Porizkova in the 1980s. Now, the popularity of television’s tempestuous but fat Roseanne Barr, star of ABC’s Roseanne, may be helping to once again alter popular conceptions of what is attractive.

Indeed, most experts in the field say that the right weight for each individual depends on a complex interplay of factors involving heredity, physique and personality. To help Canadians determine what their weight should be, Health and Welfare Canada last year recommended a Body Mass Index in which weight divided by the square of a person’s height relates to a broad range of acceptable weights for most adult Canadians. Typically, a five-foot seven male or female could weigh from about 130 lb. to 160 lb. Said Nancy Schwartz, president of the Ottawa-based National Institute of Nutrition. “Most health professionals are trying to move the focus away from a single `right’ weight to a range of weights that are consistent with emotional and physical health.”

Risk: At the same time, new research findings suggest that when it comes to health risks, the location of body fat may be more important than a person’s total body weight. Jean-Pierre Despres published in the March/April issue of the journal of the American Heart Association, women who have a high proportion of their body fat concentrated in the abdominal area have a higher risk of contracting diabetes and heart disease than women who carry the bulk of their body fat on their legs and hips. “If the amount of abdominal fat is low,” said Despres, “the women tend to have a normal health profile, even if half their body weight is fat.”

Despres recommends a simple method for determining the distribution of body fat by measuring waist size at the navel and dividing that by the width around the hips at their widest point, including the buttocks. Women begin to be at risk, says Despres, if the resulting ratio is above 0.8, while the ratio for men should not exceed 1. Despres said that he recommends the waist-to-hip ratio as a health indicator because it shows where fat is located. than women to have excess fat in their abdominal region – and as a result are more likely to suffer from heart disease.

There are some men and women who become so enormously overweight that health problems result, regardless of their body shape. Those are the individuals considered to be morbidly obese because they are more than 100 lb. overweight. According to Dr. Nicholas Colapinto, director of the obesity clinic at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, the morbidly obese often face serious social problems, such as not fitting into theatre seats and being ridiculed on the street. Said Colapinto: “Their self-esteem is just about zero. They sit at home and they watch TV and they eat. That’s their existence.”


Desperate: After years of unsuccessful dieting and other forms of medical treatment, some of them come to Colapinto for an operation of last resort – a surgical procedure known as stomach stapling, which drastically limits the amount of food the morbidly obese person can comfortably eat. During the operation, metal staples are inserted to allow only two ounces of food to enter a reduced part of the stomach per meal. According to Colapinto, stomach stapling has helped 90 per cent of the men and 70 per cent of the women operated on to achieve and maintain a significant weight loss. Added Colapinto: “These people are so desperate, and they’re so unhealthy, that in 1989 there’s nothing else to offer them.”

Benefits: For the vast majority of Canadians who want to lose 10 or 20 lb., such measures are not necessary. Indeed, a growing number have found that by concentrating on exercise that will burn off calories, they can lose weight or maintain their ideal weight. There are other benefits to being active. Prof. Roy Shephard, director of the University of Toronto’s school of physical and health education, says that exercise can temporarily set the body’s metabolism higher, so that even when the activity is over, the body still burns calories at a higher rate. According to Shephard, exercise can even help to counteract the depression caused by low blood sugar levels that many people feel when they are dieting. He said that, during exercise, the body releases a type of hormone known as catecholamine, which binds to fat cells and stimulates their breakdown. Moderate exercise is more important than all-out vigorous exercise, said Shephard, because it draws on the body’s stores of fat rather than depleting the sugar stores. Added Shephard: “You’ve usually put on weight over quite a long period, and so you have to be prepared to see the fat disappear over a similar, fairly long period.”

Despite new knowledge and new techniques in the field of weight loss, the siren song of crash diets continues to beckon. And, of course, there are diets that will work for some people. Toronto dietician Rosie Schwartz suggests that wise dieters should eat small amounts of food often, choosing what they eat

from the four main food groups – milk and milk products; meat, fish and poultry and alternates; breads and cereals; and fruits and vegetables. According to Schwartz, eating regularly provides the body with more energy and helps to stave off the hunger that leads to binges. It also contributes to the thermal effect of food, in which the very act of eating helps to set the body’s metabolism higher. Eating in such a manner and exercising regularly, said Schwartz, can lead to a weight loss of about two pounds a week, the maximum that can be achieved without leading to a cycle of weight loss followed by weight gain. Explained Schwartz: “You should think of weight loss as your mind declaring war on your body. Think of it as subversive warfare.” Clearly, for the thousands of Canadians who say that they want to lose weight, the news that the war can be won is reassuring.

-> Next:

Startup trend watching

Thanks to Dragons’ Den, it’s cooler than ever to be an entrepreneur. In 2011, about 100,000 small businesses were created, and there’s no sign that number will decrease anytime soon. To be successful, though, it helps to have a great idea and an in-demand product or service.

Here are a few of the hottest niches.

Food trucks

Zane Caplansky, owner of Toronto’s Caplansky’s Delicatessen, has an interesting plan to expand his business. He wants to take it all over Canada in fully-loaded food trucks.

The food truck business, says Caplansky, works in a couple of ways. Not only does it raise awareness of his restaurant, but it’s quite profitable. “In one night we made the same amount in the truck as we did the entire day in the restaurant,’ he says. “And we had four people in the truck instead of 14 people in the restaurant.”

He’s not the only one discovering that food trucks mean big business. According to market research firm IBIS World, the food truck and street vendor industry saw annual growth of 8.4% between 2007 and 2012, and it’s estimated that by 2016 the global market will hit a whopping $1.7 billion.

Demand for food trucks is coming in part from the thriving local food movement–people looking for affordable homemade menu items. But, says Caplansky, what’s really driving it is a movement toward more specialized foods. Entrepreneurs can hit the jackpot if they can focus on a few items that no one else sells. Caplansky, who believes he has the only deli food truck in Canada, is following that formula.

Caplansky’s plans to put another truck on the road next spring and hopes to franchise the concept after that. But the best part, he says, is that it’s a business that’s a lot of fun. “People love ordering out of a truck.”


Agriculture consultants

The massive Canadian agri-food industry feeds a market of nearly $100 billion, with about $35 billion in exports. Now it appears poised for a growth spurt. With the global population expected to exceed 9 billion by 2050, finding ways to feed everyone will be big business.

Agriculture today draws on many fields, says Glenn Yonemitsu, CEO of the Canadian Association of Management Consultants (CMC-Canada). “It not only includes farming, but an understanding of life sciences, the environment and the use of technology. For example, satellite technology can help increase crop yields by measuring temperature, moisture and sunlight, and it can help experts identify which crops would grow best in which locations.”

With this increasing complexity, demand is growing for agriculture consultants who can help agribusiness by explaining and applying the new capabilities. “Agrologists work in the whole vertical chain of the agri-food and agri-science industries–ranging from working with seeds and seed genetics to fertilizers to marketing boards to food processing and distribution.”

Get started as an agricultural consultant by becoming an agrologist, a certified professional designation conferred by provincial organizations and requiring a formal education in agriculture. The next step would be to earn a Certified Agricultural Consultant designation from CMC-Canada. Through these processes, one would establish a specialization.

Given the size and complexity of agri-food,” says Yonemitsu, “consultants will be needed as Canadian companies compete for this new business.”

Mobile app developers

It’s no secret that app development is a budding industry, but what’s not so apparent is that the sector’s growth has barely begun. According to Comscore, 8 million Canadians owned smartphones in September 2011, representing 40% of the mobile market. There’s plenty of room for growth–and the appetite for apps will grow right along with it.

Yes, the number of apps competing for attention is massive. But so is the number of downloads. In September 2010, Apple’s iTunes App Store had more than 250,000 apps available and downloads topped 5 billion. In a July 2012 announcement, Apple said its number of apps topped 650,000. The number of downloads: 25 billion.

It’s good news for companies like Polar Mobile, which makes apps for big media companies. In business for just five years, the Toronto-based company has attracted $10 million from investors. Marlon Rodrigues, the company’s director of marketing, says anyone with skill and desire can get into app development because every industry from finance to healthcare needs apps to help staff do their day-to-day jobs.

The big underlying trend is the consumerization of mobile,” he says. “It’s cheaper to use a phone or tablet than for companies to fund massive enterprise-level deployments.”

While entrepreneurs can launch themselves for the cost of a phone and developer account, the hard part is delivering a quality product that’s profitable. Rodrigues suggests creating a few apps to show prospective clients. “The proof is in the pudding,” he says. “How many star ratings does it have? Does it work well? You’ve got to be able to show what you can do uniquely.”


Solar panel installers

When Blair Beesley started Solsmart Energy Solutions Inc. in 2004, the demand for solar panels on residential housing was almost nil. He could barely make ends meet, but he persevered. Now, eight years later, the company is seeing double-digit year-over-year growth and staff barely get a moment to breathe.

While solar energy for homes is popular in parts of Europe especially Germany–it’s only become viable in Canada in the last few years. In 2009, the Ontario government introduced its Feed-in Tariff program, which paid solar power-generating residents up to $0.80 (reduced to $0.549 this year) for each kilowatt-hour of electricity produced, leading to a solar-power boom in the province.

Now, nearly 12,000 Ontarians take part in the program and, reportedly, about 22,000 residential and commercial projects are waiting to connect to the energy grid. Costs for solar panel installation have dropped 40% in the last three years, says Solsmart business development manager Andrew McCormack, and he believes demand will only increase.

That’s good news for his industry. McCormack says a viable business needs two or three installers who understand proper anchoring and racking of the panels, and from one to three electricians to do the wiring, disconnects and meter setup. The company would also have to invest in training for quality workmanship and workplace safety, as Solsmart has done.

Installing solar panels is a niche market nationally now–with the exception of Ontario because of the FIT program with very few companies involved,” says McCormack. “But once installing solar panels falls below the cost of electricity, it’ll be a no-brainer for entrepreneurs.

Small business imitates life. We all have a spirit of entrepreneurship within us. When you set an achievable goal, and drive towards it with determination, imagination and an open mind, anything is possible.

A new look at label language


The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 requires food packagers to provide more complete, and more easily understood, labels on foods. Alleged health benefits of a product would pass strict parameters before being included on a product.

Full Text:

Food labels just aren’t user-friendly,” a consumer expert said not long ago. It;s true. Package claims like “Lite,” “Natural,” “Healthy,” “Reduced-Fat,” “High-Fiber” are more sales pitch than information. And the fine print that lists vitamins, fat, and calories doesn’t tell you all you need to know either.

Here’s the good news: Help is on the way.

The U.S. Congress has to get a lot of the credit. Many Congressmen are on special diets, and have had to real labels. They had trouble understanding food labels, too.

It heightened their appreciation of the labeling problem. So in 1990, Congress passed a law called the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, which orders the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to create very specific new rules on labeling. The new rules require labels that are easier to understand, give us better information, and make it easier to compare one food with another.


The FDA is setting up labeling rules for tens of thousands of food products, from candy bars and cereal to packaged pizza and frozen yogurt. The agency is also drawing up guidelines for nutrition information for many fresh fruits, vegetables, and fish and seafood. This information will be posted at the point of sale.

The new law doesn’t cover meat and poultry, which are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA is developing new rules for labeling meat and poultry products to correspond with those of the FDA. The new labels should be on the shelved by the middle of next year.

My Grandmother Knows


Meanwhile, FDA Commissioner Dr. David Kessler has already begun strict enforcement of existing rules on labeling.

In April 1991, only months after Dr. Kessler took office, U.S. marshals, acting on FDA orders, seized 24,000 cartons of Citrus Hill Fresh Choice Orange Juice. The word “fresh” on the label of a processed food product was misleading to consumers, since Citrus Hill is made from concentrate.

An industry representative later asked Dr. Kessler how the FDA defined “fresh.” “A fresh product is not a commercially processed product,” Kessler replied. “My grandmother knows that, the food industry knows that, the FDA knows that.” The FDA soon had agreements with some 20 food processors to stop labeling processed foods “fresh.”

Dr. Kessler’s attention then turned to the “no-cholesterol” boasts on high-fat foods like vegetable oil, margarine, and peanut butter. Some companies also put hearts on the label to suggest the product would promote healthy hearts.

These labels don’t tell the whole story,” the FDA chief said. The products have no cholesterol because they’re made from plants, but they’re high in fat, “and a high-fat diet is unhealthy,” he pointed out. Excess fat increases the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases, as well as obesity, he added. No-cholesterol products could have other fats that could lead to high cholesterol and heart disease.

Three companies got letters from the FDA demanding they remove “no-cholesterol” claims and hearts from vegetable oil labels. A number of other companies since then have also changed their labels.

“This Is a Marketing


Another FDA target was the fat percentage claims used on many low-fat frozen desserts, cottage cheese, and similar products, to make it seem that they contain very little fat. The fat percentage claims are based on the amount of fat by weight, instead of calorie count.

A product that says it is 97 percent fat-free but has 50 percent of its calories from fat is misleading,” Dr. Kessler said. “This is a marketing gimmick.” One major food company agreed to drop fat percentage claims on its labels, and other firms were expected to follow.

We are systematically examining every food category to make sure no food company gets an unfair advantage by making misleading claims,” Dr. Kessler said. “He has our attention,” a food company official commented.

Under the new food labeling law, requirements will become even more precise. Every packaged food will have a nutrition label–only about 60 percent of all packaged foods have them now. For the first time, labels will show the calories from fat, and the product’s amounts of saturated fat, cholesterol, and fiber. Some vitamins now listed–thiamin, for instance–will be optional. It’s also proposed that the amounts of fat and fiber will be shown both in amounts per serving and the amount recommended as part of the daily diet.


Lists Simplified

An ingredients list will also appear on all foods, and must include an explanation that ingredients are listed by weight, in descending order, the heaviest first. The list will have more information than it does now. “Juice drinks,” for instance, must show what percentage of fruit or vegetable juices they contain. Also proposed: listing sulfites and other ingredients that can cause allergic reactions in some sensitive people, and grouping all sugars together, including honey fructose, and others, so people know how much sugar they’re actually getting.

Phrases like “cholesterol-free,” “low-fat,” and “high in fiber,” may be used only according to very strict rules. A product can only be called “cholesterol-free,” for instance, if it is also very low in other fats. Health claims, such as “Calcium helps build strong bones,” also will be strictly regulated.

Serving sizes must be realistic, and must be shown in household measures, such as a cup or a tablespoon. Some products now list a smaller serving size–one ounce of pizza, for instance–to make the product look as if it has less fat or fewer calories. The FDA is working out appropriate serving sizes for 159 categories of food, so it will be easier to compare different breads, cereals, or pizzas.

Finally, the labels prescribed by the new FDA rules will be used nationwide. Up to now, many states have passed their own separate food labeling laws for easons that range from helping the dairy industry in Wisconsin to worries about toxic substances in food in California.

People in the food industry are generally pleased with the new law. Under the new program, food manufacturers will spend millions of dollars, not only for new labels, but for analyzing foods to measure fiber, saturated fat, and cholesterol. On the other hand, they won’t need separate labels for different states anymore. Even more important, manufacturers and processors have a level playing field, where nobody gets a competitive edge from exaggerated claims.

The rest of us have reasons to feel good about the new labels, too. The FDA’s Dr. Kessler believes “the label is the most important form of nutrition education,” giving all of us the help we need “to put together a healthful diet.

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Weighing in the diet options


Consumers must become knowledgeable about the claims of the promoters of weight-loss plans. The factors to consider when evaluating a program include the rate of weight loss and the success rate.

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If it’s Monday, it’s time for a new diet,” Cathy thought to herself. She frowned at her reflection in the mirror and wrestled with her skirt zipper.

“This time it’s going to work. This time I will lose weight. No more ice cream, no more chips. I’ll never b this fat again.”


Cathy is just one of the 65 million Americans who diet to lose weight. Each year, they spend an estimated $33 billion on liquid diets, over-the-counter appetite reducers, prepackaged foods, and support groups.

But as they continue to crowd into the growing number of diet programs, exercise classes, and weight-loss clinics, more people are starting to ask the same questions. Are these programs safe? Do they really work? Can they keep the pounds off in the long run?

These unanswered questions have even received Congressional attention. Because the weight-loss industry is largely unregulated, Democractic Congressman Ron Wyden of Oregon claims that questionable products, untrained instructors, and deceptive ads are exposing consumers to potential health risks. Rep. Wyden has proposed an industry-wide investigation, to be followed by the development of higher industry standards to protect Americans against potential weight-loss scams. Until such a program is in place, it is up to the individual to become an educated consumer.


Some Choices

Here’s the menu of weight-loss items:

  • Very-low-calorie diet (VLCD) programs. VLCDs include a 400-calorie- to 800-calorie-per-day high-protein liquid diet. Because of the severe calorie restriction, this semistarvation diet is available only through a physician’s office or a hospital; it requires a thorough health screening and constant medical monitoring. some VLCD programs will not allow anyone under the age of 18 to participate. Most VLCDs are targeted to people who are severely obese, or who are at least 30 percent above their ideal body weight.
  • Some programs also include a modified diet. Designed for people who are only 20 percent above their ideal weight, this liquid diet includes one meal per day.

Many patients in these programs lose an average of three to five pounds per week, depending on their age and the amount of weight they need to lose.

VLCD programs are expensive. They cost about $ 2,000 to $ 3,000, but some charges may be reimbursed through health insurance.

  • Diet clinics/food plans. Many of these programs are 1,000-calorie-to 1,500-calorie-per-day diets. Usually clients follow a controlled menu plan and average a one- to two-pound weight loss per week. In some cases, participants are required to buy specially packaged meals and supplements available only from the company. Many of these plans include behavior modification and nutrition classes.

Fees for these programs vary widely. The cost of reaching a targeted weight loss can range from $250 to more than $1,000. Unless prescribed by a physician, these programs are not covered by health insurance.

  • Over-the-counter products. These products range from diet pills to high-fiber cookies, diet snack bars to milkshakes. Many health experts are concerned with these dieting aids because there is no way to screen potential users, nor is professional guidance offered. Dieters of any age, weight, or health status can buy these items almost anywhere.

Some dieters can become too enthusiastic about their weight loss and put their own health at risk. If onediet pill is good, then four pills are four times better, some think. In reality, experts say that taking extradiet pills can be dangerous. As with any drug, label directions must be followed carefully.

To protect yourself, authorities recommend you ask doctor, dietitian, or pharmacist about any weight-loss product before you buy it.


Look Before You Leap

With hundreds of weight-loss programs out there, how do you find the one that’s best for you?

Nutrition experts from Tufts University have developed nine questions for you to ask when looking for a health diet:

1. Is this a diet you could live with indefinitely? If the eating choices are too restricted, the diet may not provide you with the important experience of preparing balanced meals.

2. What is the recommended rate of weight loss? Health professionals agree that you should lose no more than one to two pounds per week. Research shows that the slower you lose weight, the better chance you have of keeping it off.

3. Does the program account for individual differences when determining caloric needs? A teenager needs more calories than an adult, even on a weight-loss program.

4. Does the program contain detailed nutrition education, behavior modification, and exercise instruction? Without this information, you cannot make the permanent lifestyle changes necessary to keep the weight off.

5. Are physicians, dietitians, exercise physiologists, and psychologists part of the program? Instructors in these programs can be health professionals or they can be program-trained “graduates” of the weight-loss program itself. If the instructors are program-trained, they may not be health professionals. Make sure these instructors have professional support within the organization.

6. What percentaged of clients lose their weight and keep it off? In other words, how successful is the program? Be wary of those who do not keep track of their client’s longterm progress.

7. Does the program offer a maintenance plan once you’ve lost your weight.? For many dieters, losing weight is easy. The part they need the most help with is keeping the weight off.

8. What is the basis of their advertisements? Do they provide scientific proof that their program is legitimate, or does a celebrity claim that the product works for him or her? Remember–famous people are paid to endorse products.

9. What are the costs? Usually the costs are based on how much weight you need to lose. Make sure there are no hidden fees–the cost of extra supplements, videotapes, and other items can add up.

Why Diet Drugs Can Be Diet Dangers

Diet pills and supplements can promote weight loss, but they also can carry big health risks. Don’t be dazzled by ads promising miracles.

If you’ve ever wished you could lose a few–or many–pounds in a fast and easy way, chances are you’ve paid attention to headlines like these in advertisements seen everywhere these days. Even some serious publications run full-page ads that promise, with lots of exclamation marks, that a company’s pills, drinks, or supplements will make your extra pounds miraculously melt away.


Teens seem particularly vulnerable to such ads. They can be influenced by their own self-image–and sometimes subtly by peers, parents, and coaches–to lose weight in order to look good, perform better, or be more popular.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a study of 11,631 high school students and found that more than 43 percent of the girls surveyed said they were “on a diet.” The most common dieting methods used were skipping meals, induced vomiting after eating, and taking diet pills. Diet pills can be effective in helping some people lose weight, but are they right for you?

Straight from the Supermarket

Over-the-counter weight-loss drugs such as Acutrim and Dexatrim contain phenyl-propanolamine (PPA), an appetite suppressant that affects the central nervous system. When combined with changes in eating habits and exercise, PPA can help people lose weight. However, the results are temporary and should only be used for the short term (not more than three weeks) until new eating habits are established.

Experts warn that appetite suppressants are most effective in people who are obese, meaning their weight is at least 20 percent over their ideal body weight, as indicated on the body mass index (BMI) chart on page 11. Anyone who is only slightly overweight or simply wants to improve his or her appearance should not use these drugs.

In fact, medical experts warn that teens should not take medication containing PPA unless it is ordered and supervised by a doctor. This is the opinion of Michael Weintraub, M.D., who recently served as a director of drug evaluation at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “PPA is not recommended for teens,” says Dr. Weintraub, “because they are still growing, and if they suppress their appetites, they may not get proper nutrition.” If your doctor does recommend an over-the-counter diet pill, follow his or her dose instructions precisely. PPA can cause severe high blood pressure and an irregular heart rhythm when taken in high doses.

Are Prescriptions Better?

Even diet pills that are prescribed by a doctor may not be completely safe, either. In 1997, the drugs fenfluramine and dexfenfluramine (the “fen” part of the fen-phen combination often prescribed) were taken off the market. Although these drugs were effective in curbing the appetite, they were linked to heart valve disease as well as a condition called primary pulmonary hypertension. With this condition, there is an increased resistance to blood flow through the lungs. That puts strain on the heart and can lead to heart failure. In October 1999, the company that made Pondimin and Redux (the trade names for the withdrawn drugs) agreed to pay about $4 billion to thousands of people who had evidence that their health was harmed by the drugs.

But new pills have taken their place. Meridia is one such prescription drug that is designed to increase metabolism, cause a feeling of fullness, and increase a person’s energy level. Studies show that people who took Meridia had a significant loss of weight, BMI, and waist circumference when they used it along with a low-calorie diet, exercise, and behavior modification. This drug is recommended only for people with a BMI of over 30.


Mike Myers, M.D., a physician in Los Alamitos, California, says that Meridia has its place and can assist with weight loss, but it is not a wonder drug. Meridia’s side effects include dry mouth, insomnia, constipation, increase in blood pressure, and a rapid pulse.

What About Herbals?

The latest craze in weight-loss drugs are herbal products that also can carry a risk. Metabolife, Herbal Phen-Fen, and other similar “natural herbals” contain the herbal supplement ephedra, also known as ma huang. Ephedra, chemically related to amphetamine, can have potent side effects. In one case, a 20-year-old Marine became psychotic (afflicted with a serious mental disorder in which one loses contact with reality) while using a supplement containing ephedra. Once he stopped using it, he returned to normal. Other possible side effects include sleeplessness, restlessness, irritability, headache, nausea, vomiting, urinary disorders, and rapid heartbeat. Also, these products can be very dangerous to people with existing health conditions such as high blood pressure.

Overdosing on ephedra can cause a rise in blood pressure, changes in heart rhythm, severe sweating, enlarged pupils, seizures, and fever. Between 1993 and 1997, 34 deaths and 800 medical and psychiatric complications were reported in people using ephedra. Neal Benowitz, M.D., a toxicologist and professor at the University of California at San Francisco, says, “I would prefer to see ephedra pulled off the market until adequate warnings can be developed.”

Unlike prescription drugs, herbals are considered dietary supplements, not drugs, and do not go through the FDA approval process for safety and effectiveness. At times, the herbal product doesn’t even contain the stated amounts of ingredients on the label. And the manufacturer’s claims are usually not confirmed by medical research. “People assume that if it’s natural it must be safe,” says Gail Mahady, an expert on medicinal plants at the College of Pharmacy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “But ephedra is a drug.”

Herbals and prescription diet pills are designed to be used for the short term to help with lifestyle changes. Drugs alone offer only temporary solutions and, in some cases, may jeopardize your health.

Diet Claims: Fact of Fiction?

When you turn on the television, open the newspaper, or read a magazine, you most likely will find someone promoting a “miracle weight-loss product.” These ads claim that the products will help you lose all the weight you want with the least amount of effort. But do they really work, or are these products just full of hot air? Let’s look at some manufacturing claims and the truths behind them.

Claim: Lose weight while you sleep.

Fact: Losing weight requires significant changes in the type and amount of food you eat and the burning of calories through increased physical exertion such as exercise. A product that claims weight loss without any kind of sacrifice or effort is bogus.

Claim: Lose weight and keep it off for good.

Fact: Maintaining long-term weight loss requires permanent changes in diet and exercise. Be skeptical about any claim that a product will enable you to keep any weight off permanently.

Claim: John Doe lost 84 pounds in six weeks.

Fact: Just because someone pictured in an ad lost a lot of weight doesn’t mean you will, too. Don’t be misled.

Claim: Lose all the weight you want for just $99.

Fact: You may pay $99 up front, but there are usually hidden costs in the program. For example, some programs don’t publicize the fact that you also have to buy prepackaged meals at costs greater than program fees. Before you sign up for any weight-loss program, ask for all the costs in writing.

Claim: Lose 20 pounds in just three weeks.

Fact: As a rule, the faster you lose weight, the faster you gain it back. Plus, fast weight loss can harm your health. Unless you have a medical reason, don’t look for programs that promise quick weight loss.

Claim: Scientific breakthrough! Medical miracle!

Fact: Unless the miracle involves reducing your caloric intake and increasing your physical activity, ignore it. The most effective weight-loss programs encourage a modest reduction of food intake of 500 calories per day. At this rate, you will cut 3,500 calories per week, which is equal to one pound of fat. That’s a loss that you can live with long-term.

Food For Thought: Can Good Foods Keep Your Growing Brain In Tip-Top Shape?

You are what you eat. Everybody’s heard that old saying. However, it’s easy to forget that food fuels the human mind as well as the body. The brain isn’t a big organ, but it’s a greedy one. Up to one-quarter of all the energy you consume is burned up by the gray matter inside your head. To think right, you have to eat right.

Brain Superfoods?

It’s no surprise that sugary or fatty junk foods aren’t the best sources of nutrition. They can contribute to obesity and poor health. As it turns out, they can also muddy your thinking. Researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles found that rats fed a junk-food diet did much worse on memory tests than did rats fed a balanced diet. And according to research described in the magazine New Scientist, kids who ate sugary breakfasts before school performed at the level of 70-year-olds on tests of memory and attention!

Fine, so you’ll skip the soft drinks and doughnuts before your next big test. What should you eat instead? Are there specific superfoods that will boost your brainpower and make you as brilliant as Einstein? “Probably not,” says Harris Lieberman, a nutrition researcher for the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine. “The brain needs most of the things that the rest of your body needs. A balanced diet is just that–balanced.”


Balancing Act

Plenty of vitamins and nutrients have been linked to a healthy brain (see “Brain Boosters” below). But rather than seek out specific “brain foods,” it’s smarter to aim for a well-balanced diet. So what is the proper balance? “The brain needs protein, it needs carbohydrates, it needs fats,” Lieberman told Current Health 2.

Protein is used by the body to make the chemicals that transmit signals between neurons, or nerve cells, in the brain, Lieberman says. Digesting proteins triggers the release of certain brain chemicals that make you alert, according to Lona Sandon, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Students who eat high-protein beans and toast for breakfast do better on tests than those who eat toast alone, researchers from the University of Ulster in the United Kingdom have found.

Although a high-fat diet can be bad for the brain, so is a diet without any fats at all. The brain is about 60 percent fat. But some fats are better than others. Evidence is stacking up that one group, the omega-3 fatty acids (substances found in some fish oils), is important for good health in the body and the brain. Lab animals that don’t get enough omega-3s have problems with learning. And omega-3s appear to slow dementia, the loss of memory and mental function, in elderly people. Most researchers agree that omega-3s are important for overall health in people of all ages.

Despite all the attention that low-carb diets have been getting lately, carbohydrates are important for keeping the brain running smoothly. “The brain prefers glucose as a fuel in order to think and work its best,” Sandon says. And glucose, a simple sugar that is the main energy for the body, comes from carbohydrates. However, Sandon says, complex carbohydrates (such as whole grains) are better than simple carbs (such as sugary snacks or refined white bread). “A simple carbohydrate like sugary cereal is absorbed and used up quickly [by the body], and halfway through a test, you get tired because your energy is used up,” she says. “Whole grain or bran will stay with you a little longer.”

Break for Breakfast

Good balance is about balancing your food intake throughout the day as well as the contents of each meal. One of the most important things to do, both Sandon and Lieberman say, is to eat a healthful breakfast. In the beans-and-toast study, eating beans boosted test performance, but the plain-toast eaters still did better on the tests than those who ate no breakfast at all. “Students who eat regular breakfast perform better in school than those who don’t,” Sandon says. She suggests a breakfast that combines protein and whole-grain carbohydrates, such as whole-wheat toast with peanut butter or oatmeal and a hard-boiled egg. “Kids should have a balanced breakfast,” Lieberman agrees, and should maintain a healthful balance in their meals throughout the day. If your body is hungry, so is your brain.

RELATED ARTICLE: brain fuel.

A balanced diet is the key to a healthy mind. Balanced meals include:

  • proteins, which the body uses to make the chemicals that transport messages between brain cells.
  • fats, especially good fats such as omega-3s, which are found in foods such as salmon. Fats coat the nerve cells in the brain, allowing messages to be transmitted quickly from cell to cell.
  • carbohydrates, which are the preferred fuel for the brain. Complex carbohydrates such as bran and whole grains are especially good for the mind because they are used more slowly than simple carbohydrates, so they keep everything running longer.


Brain food

Neuroscience for Kids: Nutrition and the Brain:

TeensHealth: The New Food Guide Pyramid: pyramid.html

How Your Brain Works:

How Food Works:

Brain Boosters

Many foods and nutrients help keep the gears in your
head turning smoothly. Here are a few examples.

Brain Boost Nutrients, Vitamins, Minerals Good Food Sources
Quick thinking Omega-3 fatty acids Salmon, almonds, seeds
Alertness Protein Legumes, nuts, fish, meats, chicken, eggs
Energy Carbohydrates Whole grains, cereals, pasta, breads, fruits
Souped-up memory Choline Egg yolks, liver, milk, soybeans
Overall brain health B vitamins Whole grains, cereals, meats, poultry, fish, legumes, eggs, dairy, nuts
Magnesium Whole grains, legumes, nuts, green vegetables
Potassium Apricots, avocados, fish, bananas, cantaloupes, strawberries, oranges, meats
Calcium Milk, cheese, yogurt


  • How much of the energy you consume is used by the brain? (up to one-quarter)
  • Why is a well-balanced diet important for brain health? (The brain needs all types of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, including protein, carbohydrates, and fats, to optimize its functioning.)
  • How do whole grains compare with simple sugars as brain food? (Whole grains take longer to break down, and they sustain energy longer.)
  • How can you change your eating habits to improve your brain’s health? (Answers will vary.)


Using the “Brain Boosters” chart as a starting point, students can research foods that are good for their brains. For homework, have them create a sample diet that would maximize the nutrients needed for brain health. Then ask them to compare their recommendations with the food served in your school’s cafeteria. Lead your students in lobbying for more brain-friendly meals and snacks.

Weir, Kirsten

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