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Clutter Can Mean More Calories

How does clutter affect you? A new study suggests it can prompt you to overeat. Researchers from Cornell and Australia’s University of New South Wales investigated snacking and the effect of spending 10 minutes in a kitchen littered with newspapers on the table, dirty dishes in the sink, and the phone ringing. To begin, the researchers asked about half the 101 women participants to write about a time when they felt out of control and the others to write about feeling in control. Then they asked them to wait for 10 minutes in the messy kitchen or in a clean, organized and quiet kitchen. Bowls of cookies, crackers and carrots were available in both kitchens. The researchers reported that among the women who wrote about being out of control, those who waited in the messy kitchen ate twice as many cookies in 10 minutes as those who waited in the clean kitchen. “Being in a chaotic environment and feeling out of control is bad for diets" noted lead author Lenny Vartanian, Ph.D. adding that he suspects the same results would be observed for men. Bottom line: a clean, organized kitchen may help you cut calories. Learn more about how to create a sanctuary in your home.

Walnuts Get A Calorie Cut

If you enjoy nuts but have been concerned about calories, you can allow yourself a few more walnuts without feeling guilty - they don’t contain as many calories as we once believed. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have found that a 1-ounce serving of the nuts actually provides 39 fewer calories than listed on the USDA Nutrient Database. That’s a 21 percent reduction. The old count was based on a 19th century calculation that’s been found wanting. Determining the true count involved recruiting 18 healthy adults randomly assigned to a 3-week controlled diet without walnuts, and then another 3-week controlled diet that included 1.5 servings of the nuts. Using a method called bomb calorimetry to calculate the number of calories actually metabolized, the researchers concluded that we can now count fewer calories (146 instead of 185) when we eat an ounce of walnuts. A 2012 study by the same USDA team suggested that almonds have 32 percent fewer calories than earlier estimates. With the new method an ounce of almonds yields 129 calories, not 170.

Walk Faster. Stop. Start. And Burn More Calories

A simple change of pace during your daily walk can help boost your metabolism. In fact, it’s estimated that you’ll burn up to 20 percent more calories by varying your walking speed than you would if you move at a constant clip. Researchers at Ohio State University found that changing walking speed usually isn’t factored into estimates of the number of calories burned while exercising. They reported that up to 8 percent of the energy burned while walking is used when stopping and starting. They based their findings on measurements of the energy expended by volunteers altering their pace on a treadmill operating at a constant speed. The participants walked faster to move to the front of the treadmill or slowly to move to the back. If the treadmill speed itself is changed, you don’t get an accurate measure of energy used since the machine is doing some of the work, the researchers said. They also found that people walk slower when covering shorter distances and faster when they’ve got farther to go. And they advise that to burn more calories while walking “do weird things” - carry a backpack, walk with weights and stop, then start while you’re walking, or walk a curve rather than a straight line.

Counting Bites For Weight Loss

Can you lose weight without counting calories? Researchers at Brigham Young University think so. Participants in a month-long study lost about four pounds each simply by counting the number of bites they took per day. The investigators recruited 61 individuals and began the investigation by asking them to count the number of bites of food and gulps of drinks they took for a day. They then asked the participants to cut those totals by 20 to 30 percent, while recording every bite and gulp. The researchers maintain that to lose weight you have to first focus on the amount you eat, and then about the kind of food you're eating - in other words, think about quantity before quality. The study participants counted their bites and their liquid intake and emailed or texted their totals to the researchers at the end of each day. Along the way, 20 of the participants dropped out because they had a hard time keeping count, but the other 41 completed the study. Next the researchers want to see if those 41 individuals manage to keep their weight off - or better yet, continue counting.

Cutting Calories To Lengthen Life

In animal studies, caloric restriction appears to increase longevity and slow the progression of age-related diseases but does it offer similar benefits in humans? An investigation sponsored by the National Institutes of Health set out to learn how trimming calories by 25 percent would affect human health. Researchers recruited 218 young and middle-aged healthy adults, some of normal weight, some moderately overweight. They randomized the participants into a group that would cut calories, and a control group that made no dietary changes. After two years, the investigators reported that the calorie-cutters didn’t succeed in reaching their goal of 25 percent reduced intake. The intervention did pare it by 12 percent, however, and participants in the group lost 10 percent of their weight in the first year, 5.5 pounds short of their 15.5 percent target. Even with this shortfall, compared to the control group, the calorie-cutters lowered their average blood pressure by 4 percent and total cholesterol by 6 percent, raised their HDL ("good") cholesterol and reduced their C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation linked to cardiovascular disease by 47 percent.  The researchers concluded that reducing calories by just 12 percent, and maintaining the lower intake, yielded a beneficial effect on health.

My take? Despite the well-publicized effects of caloric restriction in animals, I’ve questioned how many people would be willing to drastically cut calories long-term. This study shows that even a modest reduction in caloric intake can lead to significant health benefits. Even so, we still don’t know how effective long-term caloric restriction is at improving human health. We’ve got a lot more to learn on this subject. In the meantime, a prudent caloric intake of fresh fruits and vegetables and regular exercise is your best bet for maintaining your weight and enjoying optimum health. 

4 Beverages to Avoid

Unless you want to add unnecessary calories and sugars to your diet, avoid these common, popular drinks.

Whether you are watching your weight or just want to eat healthier, taking a look at what you drink is key. Empty calories can lurk in all types of beverages - especially these:

1.   Coffee drinks with extras such as sugar or flavored syrup. These deliver a concentrated dose of quick-digesting carbohydrates that can lead to weight gain. A better option is a plain coffee with a little half-and-half, or, better yet, enjoy antioxidant-rich green tea instead of coffee.

2.   Frothy summer cocktails. Whether it's a margarita or a piña colada, sugary drinks pack a double dose of calories due to alcohol and sugar - some can top 800 calories in one drink! A better option is a glass of red wine (60-100 calories), a light beer (about 100 calories) or spirits with club soda and a lime.

3.   Juice and non-juice "juice drinks." These products are no better than drinking sugared water. If you want to enjoy the juice of a fruit, it’s best fresh, not bottled, and made partially or wholly from vegetables rather than entirely from fruits. If you consume fruit juice, I recommend adding purified or sparkling water to reduce the sugar content. 

4.   Soda. There just isn't anything nutritious about soda, whether it's diet or regular. If you're a soda addict, breaking the habit is among the best moves you can make for your weight and your health. Consider switching to sparkling water with a slice of citrus.

Don't miss my next post when we cover four healthy beverages.

What Does 250 Calories Mean to You?

Researchers at Johns Hopkins found that posting signs about how many miles customers would have to walk or run to burn off the 250 calories a sugary drink contains was enough to encourage some teens to opt for healthier choices. The study, performed in Baltimore corner stores, was designed to show that simply posting the calorie counts for sweet drinks doesn't change any habits, but that providing real world information on how those calories translate to miles of walking or running can make an impression great enough to influence behavior. Before the signs were put up, the researchers reported that 98 percent of drink purchases by teens in the stores were sugary beverages. Afterward, regardless of the type of sign, the percentage of sugary drink purchases dropped to 89 percent. The investigators found that the most effective sign was the one informing teens that they would have to walk five miles to burn off 250 calories. Of the 35 percent of the teens who said they saw the signs, 59 percent said they believed them, and 40 percent of them said that they bought something else - a smaller drink or water or nothing at all - as a result. The investigators observed 3,098 purchases, mostly by African Americans between the ages of 12 and 18.

My take? A few similar studies along these lines have been completed in the past and showed that providing information on how much activity is required to work off calories in foods apparently can make a difference. If you're interested in knowing more about how much exercise it takes to burn off a set amount of calories, you can find any number of online calculators that will give you calories burned per hour for many different activities for someone of your height and weight. Learning how much effort is involved in eliminating excess calories is worthwhile - it may stop you from overindulging in the first place, and can also help motivate you to get more exercise.

Trying to Cut Back on Salt and Calories? Here’s the Secret

You might want to reconsider the sandwiches in your life if your goal is to lower your sodium intake and cut calories. A new study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that on any given day, 49 percent of adults in the U.S. eat at least one sandwich and that sandwiches account for one fifth of total daily sodium intake. The sandwiches included classics like ham and cheese with mayo, burgers, franks, and just about any concoction you're likely to eat between two slices of bread or on a roll of any kind. The USDA researchers identified sandwiches as sources of too much salt and too many calories after analyzing data from a survey called "What We Eat in America, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009-2010." Participants in the survey reported on everything they ate and drank the previous day. The data showed that people who ate sandwiches took in significantly more calories - about an additional 300 - than those who didn't eat meals between bread. They also consumed about 600 mg more sodium daily than those who didn't eat sandwiches. Bottom line: for every 1,000-calorie sandwich you enjoy, you also get 1,700-1,800 mg of sodium.

Eating Slowly Cuts Calories

Can you really cut daily calories by eating your meals more slowly? Researchers from Texas Christian University tackled this question by recruiting 70 men and women - half of them were of normal weight, and half were overweight or obese. In a research kitchen, the study participants were asked to eat an unlimited lunch slowly, pausing to put down their spoons during the meal, taking small bites and chewing slowly. At the next session, the groups were instructed to consume the food as quickly as possible, not putting down their spoons, taking big bites and chewing quickly. The researchers reported that the normal weight participants consumed 88 fewer calories during the slow meal than they did during the fast one. However, the overweight and obese participants consumed only 58 calories less during the slow meal, although at both meals they consumed fewer calories overall than the normal weight subjects, the investigators reported. What’s more, both the normal weight and the overweight/obese participants reported being less hungry an hour after the slow meal than after the fast one. The main message here is that making an effort to eat more slowly may cut calories, enhance your enjoyment of your meals and keep you feeling full longer.

My take? I have long promoted mindfulness as a central strategy in building a healthy lifestyle. You might be able to cut calories a bit simply by paying attention to eating slowly, as this study suggests. Leisurely meals, in good company, can be a welcome change from the fast pace of 21st century life. One of the goals of the slow food movement - viewed as an antidote to fast food culture, microwave cooking, and eat-on-the-run meals - is to encourage us to slow down and reflect on our meals so that we can truly enjoy our food and drink. Bear in mind, however, that if you want to lose weight, what works in the long run is putting fewer calories on your plate. To lose weight while maintaining or improving your health, I recommend my anti-inflammatory diet coupled with calorie-consciousness and daily physical activity.

Meena Shah, at al “Slower Eating Speed Lowers Energy Intake in Normal-Weight but not Overweight/Obese Subjects,” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, published online January 2, 2014