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Book Review: Food Truths, Food Lies

Food Truths, Food Lies, written by family physician Eric Marcotte, M.D., may be the most refreshingly evidence-based diet book of the decade. You will not find a single mention of super-foods, magical berries, or supplement “must-haves” in the entire book. What you will find is the cold, hard truth about why many Americans are overweight, and what it takes to become a healthy eater.

Marcotte writes for the average American – his simple language, matter-of-fact tone, and regular reminders of what the reader has learned, make for a quick and memorable read.  Although it’s clear that Marcotte has carefully distilled his dietary advice from the scientific literature, he refrains from burdening the reader with too many footnotes and references. Instead, he has created a kind of Cliff’s Notes of nutrition, having done the “heavy sifting” for us. What remains are the most basic principles underlying all healthy eating, such as:

*You can’t exercise your way to weight loss (i.e. you can’t outrun your own mouth – it’s much easier to eat more calories than you burn) Read more »

Beware Of Potatoes: They May Cause You To Pack On Pounds

Chips

Without meaning to, you’ve gained a few pounds over the last few years. How did that happen? Certain foods, especially the humble potato, may be partly to blame.

In a fascinating study of 120,000 healthy, non-obese women and men taking part in long-term studies of diet and health, the participants gained an average of 3.3 pounds every four years over a 13-year period. When the researchers tallied up the foods that contributed most to this weight gain, potatoes topped the list—twice:

  • potato chips
  • potatoes
  • sugar-sweetened beverages
  • red meat
  • processed meats

Other contributors to weight gain included sleeping less than six hours a night or more than eight hours, drinking alcohol, and watching television. The results were just published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The study offered some good news and tips for losing weight, too. Foods and lifestyle choices associated with losing weight included Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

MyPlate: Spiffy New Nutritional Guidelines For Americans

myplate_blue-rectangle

The crumbling Food Pyramid and its hip successor (MyPyramid) fell into oblivion yesterday, eroded by the stinging winds of science. Their replacement? A quartered plate called—wait for it—MyPlate that was designed to visually convey the elements of healthy eating to Americans of all ages.

The new icon consists of a white plate divided into four segments: green for vegetables, red for fruits, orange for grains, and purple for protein. Dairy has a prominent place, sitting where a glass of water should be. The hope is that the plate will nudge Americans away from meals dominated by meat and starch and towards meals made up mostly of plant-based foods.

The original Food Guide Pyramid debuted in 1992. It was built on shaky scientific ground. Over the next few years, research from around the world chipped away at the healthy eating message in the pyramid’s base (refined carbohydrates), the middle (meat and milk), and the tip (fats).

The Pyramid got an extreme makeover in 2005. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

Why Is Weight Gain Contagious? Monkey See, Monkey Do

Woman-on-scale-with-friends

One of the big health news stories of 2007 was a study showing that your friends influence the size of your waist (and the rest of your body). Like any study, it raised as many questions as it answered, including why this happens. A new study from Arizona State University looked into that question by testing three pathways by which friends might influence one another’s body size:

  1. Collaboration. Over time, you might start to share the ideas of the people close to you after talking with them about what the proper body size is. Then you might choose your food and exercise habits in order to reach that body size, whether that means eating more food to look like your plus-sized friends, or less food to look like your thin ones.
  2. Peer pressure. You feel bullied into trying to look like your friends and family members. They make you feel bad about your body, so you go about eating and exercising to look like them.
  3. Monkey see, monkey do. You change your habits to mirror those of your friends without necessarily thinking or talking about an ideal body weight. Alexandra Brewis Slade, PhD, one of the Arizona State researchers, gave an example of this pathway that most of us can relate to: You’re at a restaurant with friends and the waiter brings over the dessert menu. Everyone else decides not to order anything, so you pass, too, even though you were dying for a piece of chocolate mousse cake.

All three of these pathways are based on the idea that loved ones share social norms, the implicit cultural beliefs that make some things okay, others not. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

Most Americans Don’t Know What Healthy Eating Means

Jessie GrumanOnly one in 10 respondents to a national survey could estimate how many calories they should consume in a day.

Seventy-nine percent make few or no attempts to pay attention to the balance between the calories they consume and expend in a day.

These and other piquant findings from the online 2011 Food and Health Survey fielded by the International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC) struck home last week as I smacked up against my own ignorance about a healthy diet and the difficulty of changing lifelong eating habits.

The confluence of my failure to gain weight after cancer treatment and a blood test suggesting pre-diabetes meant that as of last Tuesday, I have been on an eat-specific-types-of-food-every-hour-and-write-it-down regimen.  And despite a lifetime of recommending that people change their behavior to become healthier, I am frustrated as I try to follow my own advice. I am bewildered about what I’m supposed to eat.  Finding it, preparing it and then eating it at the right time requires untold contortions and inconvenience. Writing it all down is tedious.  I don’t have time for this – I have a job, obligations. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Prepared Patient Forum: What It Takes Blog*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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