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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.

Pregnant? Another Reason To Avoid Fructose

Pregnant women whose diet is high in fructose could be setting their babies up for high blood pressure and obesity later in life. This finding comes from a study in mice by researchers at the University of Texas, Medical Branch, Galveston. They provided pregnant mice a solution of either fructose or water as their only drink from their first day of pregnancy through delivery. All of the baby mice were given standard mouse meals and their health was evaluated when they were one year old. The researchers found that both the male and female mice whose mothers drank the fructose solution had higher peak glucose levels compared to the offspring of the mother mice who drank only water during pregnancy. The female mice born to moms in the fructose group were heavier, had more abdominal fat and more fat in their livers than the females whose mothers drank water. These differences weren’t observed in the males from the fructose group. While this study was done in mice, lead researcher Antonio Saad, M.D. commented that the results show that consuming a high fructose diet during pregnancy puts offspring at risk for obesity and the many health problems it can cause.

My take? These are very interesting findings, even if conducted in animals. It wouldn’t be ethical or desirable to perform the same study with pregnant women to see what effects a high fructose diet might have on the health of their children. However, we already know that the body doesn’t utilize fructose well, and I am especially concerned about the potentially disruptive effects of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), the main sweetener used in beverages and in a wide variety of processed foods. Some evidence suggests fructose may disturb liver function. It also may elevate triglycerides in men, increasing the risk of heart disease. The vulnerability of a developing child adds another layer of concern. I don’t think fructose or high fructose corn syrup is good for anyone, pregnant or not. 

Vegan, Vegetarian Diets For Weight Loss

If you want to lose weight, and you’re willing to give up the traditional American way of eating, a vegan or vegetarian diet may be the way to go. Researchers from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health conducted a meta-analysis to determine the effects of vegetarian eating on weight. They narrowed down 1,513 studies to the 12 most relevant trials comparing vegan diets or vegetarian plans (including eggs and dairy products) to the average American diet. The 12 trials included data on 1,151 individuals ranging in age from 18 to 82. Some were obese or diabetic. Analysis showed that people on vegetarian diets lost about 4.4 pounds within a year, while those on a vegan diet lost an additional 5.5 pounds during the same time frame. In the studies reviewed, the losses were compared to a control group with no changes in diet. In news reports, Frank Hu of the Harvard School of Public Health, an author of the investigation said that the meta-analysis didn’t compare the weight loss effects of vegan and vegetarian diets to a low carbohydrate, low fat or any other diet strategy, but found that they seemed to out-perform the average American diet. 

Thumbs Down On Low-Fat Diets

Low-fat diets have been losing their luster for some time, and now an analysis from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and Harvard Medical School has shown that they don't lead to more weight loss than low-carb or more palatable Mediterranean diets. The researchers reviewed the results of 53 studies containing data on 68,128 adults and saw no difference between the average weight loss due to low-fat diets and higher fat diets. In fact, they concluded that reduced-fat diets led to weight loss only when compared to no diet at all, and resulted in less weight loss than low-carb plans (the review team pointed out that differences in weight change were only about 2.5 pounds). The low-fat diets included in the studies analyzed ranged from those that permitted only 10 percent or fewer calories from fat, to those allowing 30 percent or fewer fat calories. Because fat contains more than twice the calories per gram as carbohydrates and protein, the rationale for low fat diets has been that "reducing fat intake will naturally lead to weight loss," said research leader Deidre Tobias, noting that the evidence from the investigation "clearly suggests otherwise."

Your Diet, Your Brain and Your Microbiome

What you eat can affect your ability to adapt and adjust to changing situations in your day-to-day environment, at least if you’re a mouse. New research from Oregon State University suggests that diets high in fat and sugar have an undesirable effect on the microbiome, the 100 trillion or so microorganisms that populate our digestive system. And that influence seems to impact the brain’s ability to adapt and adjust to new problems, a trait known as cognitive flexibility. Although this study was done in mice (which the researchers said are a “good model” for humans on a variety of topics), it suggests that these particular diets can affect the way we respond to unexpected changes. The real-world example lead investigator Kathy Magnusson gave was how quickly you would adapt if you were driving home and your usual route was closed. No problem plotting an alternate course as a solution if you have normal cognitive flexibility. If not, your trip home could be pretty stressful. With the mice, four weeks on a high sugar or high fat diet affected the way they performed on a variety of challenging tests compared to animals on a normal mouse diet. One of the most pronounced changes seen was in cognitive flexibility. The study was done with young mice. Dr. Magnusson said the effect of the high sugar or high fat diet might be more dramatic in older animals (or humans).


My take: These new findings mirror the results of other studies about the impact of fat and sugar on cognitive function and behavior, suggesting that some of these problems may be linked to dietary influences on the microbiome. We’re just beginning to understand the health consequences of our microbiomes, but based on what we know so far, they are becoming increasingly unbalanced in this country compared to other populations that eat traditional diets. This is likely due to growing reliance on processed products in addition to regular exposure to antibiotics from medical treatment and residues in foods. These changes in the microbiome may underlie an increased incidence of a wide range of diseases and conditions including psychological and behavioral disorders. 

Does Carbonation Make You Fat?

You may have heard that carbonation leads to weight gain – a claim that goes around the internet every so often. If you sip fizzy drinks are you encouraging extra pounds? 

Can imbibing too many carbonated drinks make you fat? While the fizziness of carbonated drinks is not a direct contributor to weight gain, once you factor in the unhealthy amounts of sugar that carbonated sodas contain, adding unwanted pounds can most definitely be a side effect of consuming carbonated drinks.

If you crave the fizz, opt for carbonated mineral waters that have no added sugars or artificial sweeteners. There seems to be no solid evidence that the carbonation itself contributes to weight gain. Add a bit of fruit juice if you want a sweeter taste - you'll get the carbonation without all the empty calories.

Want to Spring Clean Your Diet?

You spring clean your home – why not do the same to your diet? These four simple steps can make a difference in how you feel, your energy levels, and your sleep habits. Give them a try!

Why not make this season the one in which you optimize what you eat? Try these simple suggestions:

  1. Cut out trans fats. Avoid margarine, vegetable shortening and anything that contains hydrogenated oils. Instead, use heart-healthy extra virgin olive oil.
  2. Eat "true whole grains" - that is, grains that are intact or broken into large pieces rather than ground into flour - instead of refined grains. You will feel fuller, in part because of the higher fiber content whole grains provide.
  3. Load up on fresh fruits and vegetables. Make a colorful salad - with red and yellow peppers, dark leafy greens, ripe tomatoes - part of one meal every day. And add a fresh fruit salad as a delicious and healthful alternative to unhealthy desserts.
  4. Take in fewer calories. A simple way to do this is to skip the fast food and prepackaged snacks - instead have veggies and hummus, almond butter and an apple, or a homemade sandwich with organic proteins and fresh vegetables.


Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging has more healthy eating tips - start your 14-day free trial now and save 30% when you join!

Want to Clean Up Your Diet?

If you want to start eating and drinking foods and beverages that make you feel good inside and out, start by eliminating drinks that contain this drug from your diet.

Caffeine is an addictive drug that four out of five American adults use every day, whether it be in coffee, soft drinks, tea or another form. If you feel you may be addicted to caffeine and wish to give it up, try the following:

  1. Start by choosing a period of time when you have relatively few obligations, such as a long weekend.
  2. Commit to trying three caffeine-free days, and see how you feel afterwards.
  3. Prepare to experience tiredness, irritability and a very bad headache, especially after avoiding caffeine for 24 hours. Diminish the discomfort by keeping yourself busy: take walks, spend time in the garden, or do other light, soothing activities.
  4. Avoid anything that may aggravate a headache, such as prolonged TV watching or reading in low light. These side effects will eventually diminish - and are worth it in the long run.

Or, consider weaning yourself off caffeine by gradually reducing your intake. Substitute green tea or decaffeinated coffee for caffeinated coffee, and drink water or fruit juice mixed with sparkling water in lieu of cola. Breathing exercises, physical exercise and a diet that incorporates plenty of fruits and vegetables may also help reduce the severity of side effects.

8 Reasons the French Are Slim

There is a reason the French tend to be slim: eight reasons actually! Find out what many French citizens do to keep their weight down – and consider adopting the healthy and easy-to-implement habits into your lifestyle.

For years, scientists on both sides of the Atlantic have been trying to unravel the "French paradox" - the finding that despite a high-fat diet, the French appear to have a lower rate of heart attacks (as well as a lower rate of obesity) than other Western countries, particularly the United States. One major reason: nutrition researchers now feel that sugar, flour and oxidized vegetable oil (such as soybean oil used in processed foods and for deep-frying), and not natural saturated fats such as butter that the French enjoy, are the major drivers of obesity and heart disease in the U.S.

There may also be other reasons for this paradox. These eight tactics are the norm in the typical French diet - consider changing your approach toward eating by adopting these strategies and see if it makes a difference in your life:

  1. Eat smaller portions.
  2. Avoid snacking, and eat only at mealtimes.
  3. Eat a wide variety of food.
  4. Don't skip meals.
  5. Enjoy your food and focus on dishes made from fresh, locally grown, quality ingredients.
  6. Stick to your internal cues. When you no longer feel hungry, stop eating.
  7. Eat less sugar. The French eat less than half as much added sugar as do Americans.
  8. Eat meals with family and friends so that eating becomes a pleasurable experience as opposed to something to "fit into" a schedule or feel guilty about.

The Downside of Gluten-Free Eating

A recent Consumer Reports survey of 1,000 Americans found that 63 percent believed that following a gluten-free diet would be good for them, resulting in better digestion, healthy weight loss, increased energy, lower cholesterol and a stronger immune system. But the magazine's research of the scientific evidence suggested otherwise. It reported that unless you're among the seven percent of Americans who have true celiac disease (an inherited, autoimmune disorder that damages the small intestine when those with this condition consume gluten), going gluten-free could have more risk than benefit. The investigation found that many products touted as gluten-free aren't enriched or fortified with micro-nutrients such as folic acid and iron, which are common additions to wheat flour. What's more, these gluten-free products may be higher in fat and sugar than regular versions, contain rice or rice flour, which in turn may expose you to more inorganic arsenic than considered safe. In addition, there's no scientific evidence that a gluten-free diet will help you lose weight - the opposite is more likely to occur (patients with celiac disease frequently gain weight on the gluten-free diet). The CR team also points out that gluten-free products are often more expensive than their regular counterparts, and analysis indicates that some of them contain more than the FDA's limit of less than 20 parts per million of gluten.

My take? While some experts have agreed that "non-celiac gluten sensitivity" can be seen clinically, and that those affected may benefit from a gluten-free diet, there is no reliable test for gluten sensitivity. The only way to be reasonably confident that gluten is the problem is to rule out other medical possibilities and undergo a trial period without gluten in the diet. The most common symptoms linked to gluten sensitivity are digestive problems (similar to those of irritable bowel syndrome), headache, fatigue, numbness, and depression as well as more than 100 different non-specific symptoms including "foggy mind," ADHD-like behavior, anemia, joint pain, osteoporosis, leg numbness and balance problems. Other than for true celiac patients, I know of no evidence demonstrating that following a gluten-free diet leads to all the health benefits being claimed for it, but if you feel positive changes in your health without gluten, be sure to consider the other important aspects of diet, including fiber and nutrition.