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Is There Radon in Your Kitchen Counters?

Some types of kitchen countertops – including the popular granite styles – may emit a radioactive gas known as radon. Learn more about what radon is, its link to lung cancer, and how to find out if radon is in your countertops.

Radon, a carcinogenic natural radioactive element, is an odorless, colorless gas produced by the breakdown of uranium that seeps out of the earth. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that about 21,000 lung cancer deaths are caused by radon each year. In the home, radon sometimes enters basements through concrete cracks and becomes concentrated in the air that we breathe. It can also be present in natural materials that are brought into the home - including granite countertops. Some granite and other natural stones contain trace amounts of uranium. If these emit radon, they typically do so at very low levels. But in some instances, tests have found that granite countertops give off potentially dangerous levels of radiation. 

The New York Times reported in July 2008 that the increased popularity of granite countertops over the past decade has resulted in an expansion of the kinds of granite available and that reports of "hot" countertops seem to come from "the more exotic and striated varieties from Brazil and Namibia."

The EPA advises that all homes be tested for radon. If significant levels are found, you can take steps to protect your family's health. Visit the EPA's website for more information on testing for radon levels.

Surprising Stress Effect on Weight Gain

Stress can send you straight to the ice cream in the freezer or the pizza joint on the way home, but new research has found that the subsequent weight gain is more complex than just packing in extra calories. A study at Ohio State found that you actually burn fewer calories when eating under stress than someone who eats the exact same thing but isn’t stressed out. A group of 58 women, average age 53, participated in the study. They were provided with three standardized meals. The test meal provided 930 calories, including 60 grams of fat, and consisted of eggs, turkey sausage, biscuits and gravy, the caloric equivalent of a fast food meal of a two-patty burger and an order of fries. They were asked to fast for 12 hours before they returned to the Clinical Research Center. They then reported on any stress they had encountered in the past 24 hours. After the standardized meal, measurements of the women’s metabolic rate (how fast they burned the calories) showed that the participants who reported the most stress burned 104 fewer calories than the others. The researchers estimated that the daily effect of this pattern could add up to 11 pounds per year.

My take? We’ve long known that stress can trigger binge eating and lead to weight gain, and this study gives us a window into one of the possible mechanisms involved. The biochemical aspects linking stress and metabolism have yet to be worked out, and may eventually provide a target for intervention, but if you want to decrease the impact of stress in your life and on your weight, you should start by getting regular exercise and sufficient sleep. Incorporate meditation and relaxation techniques into your daily routine. Breathing exercises, particularly performing the 4-7-8 Breath, will help bring calmness throughout your body. Practice it at least twice a day, and try it every time you feel anxious or upset.

Janice K. Kielcolt-Glaser et al, “Daily Stressors, Past Depression, and Metabolic Responses to High-Fat Meals: A Novel Path to Obesity,” Biological Psychiatry,

What Flavor Do You Prefer? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed how food flavor affects our health, specifically bitter flavor: Bet on Bitter? Check out the article and let us know what flavor your prefer the most.

How Do You Store Your Food? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed the health concerns and safety of using food packaging to store food: How Safe is Food Packaging? Check out the article and let us know what you use when storing food.

Can Skipping Breakfast Ruin Your Diet?

The latest word on this subject is “no.” The question of whether or not skipping breakfast is key to weight loss has been asked and answered in any number of studies and the answers have often been contradictory. The latest effort to determine whether or not eating breakfast has an impact on weight loss came from the University of Alabama, where researchers looked at the effect of eating or skipping breakfast on 309 healthy overweight and obese people ages 20 to 65. One group was asked to eat breakfast before 10 a.m. while those in another group were asked not to eat anything before 11 a.m. A third group, divided between people who habitually skipped breakfast and those who always ate it, was not given any instruction about whether or not to eat the morning meal. None of the participants was on a strict weight loss plan, but all were trying to lose weight independently. After 16 weeks, skipping or eating breakfast had no discernible effect on weight loss. Study leader Emily Dhurandhar, Ph.D., said future studies would be aimed at understanding “why eating or skipping breakfast did not influence weight loss, despite evidence that breakfast may influence appetite and metabolism.”

Emily J. Dhurandhar et al, “The effectiveness of breakfast recommendations on weight loss: a randomized controlled trial,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,
doi: 10.3945/ ajcn.114.089573

Fooling Your Hunger Hormone

How influenced are you by food labels? A new study suggests that the information they provide can determine the way your body responds to the food. Here’s how it worked: clinical psychologist Alia Crum prepared vanilla milkshakes and divided them up into two large batches. She labeled the shakes in one batch as containing 140 calories with no fat and no added sugar. The other batch, named Indulgence, displayed labels stating each shake contained 620 calories. (Both batches actually provided 300 calories per shake.) Before and after the study, participants drank their shakes and a nurse measured their levels of the hormone ghrelin, secreted in the stomach. Ghrelin levels rise when your body needs more food and fall when you’ve had enough. The ghrelin measurements revealed that levels of this hormone fell about three times more in participants who drank what they believed to be the high calorie “Indulgence” milkshake than they did in those who drank what they thought was a 140-calorie shake. All told, the study demonstrated that what we believe about the food we're ingesting can influence the way our bodies behave.

Eating Anti-Inflammatory Made Simple
Take the guesswork out of a healthful diet with Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging. Our shopping and eating guides, over 300 recipes, tips and videos follow Dr. Weil's recommended anti-inflammatory principles for promoting better health, from head to toe. See what it's about - start your free trial today and save 30% when you join!

Alia Crum et al, “Mind over milkshakes: mindsets, not just nutrients, determine ghrelin response,” Health Psychology, July 2011, doi: 10.1037/a0023467.

What Foods Do You Crave Most Often? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed food addiction and if it is the cause of obesity: Addicted to Food? Check out the article and let us know what foods you crave most often.

What Starchy Foods Do You Prefer? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed resistance starch and the role it plays in digestive health: Is Resistant Starch Good for You? Check out the article and let us know which starchy food your prefer most.

Emotional Eating Goes Two Ways

When you consider emotional eating, you may focus on the tendency to seek comfort foods that beckon when you’re blue, but a new study suggests that emotional eating has a flip side: the healthy decisions you make about food when you’re in a good mood. Researchers at the University of Delaware set out to explore this territory by first recruiting 211 local adults and asking them to read inspiring articles about someone who had a good life and achieved worthwhile goals or to read something neutral. Afterward, when offered a choice of foods, the study volunteers who read the positive article rated the healthy ones higher than high calorie comfort foods. For a second study, the researchers gave 315 college undergraduates negative articles about someone whose life was sad and who failed to reach goals or something neutral to read. After that, when given food choices, the students preferred the comfort foods. The researchers concluded that when you’re in a good mood you’re more likely to think ahead, and about the future benefits of making healthy food choices. The flip side is that when we’re down, we’re still more likely to opt for the immediate taste and sensory experience that comfort foods offer.

Eating Anti-Inflammatory Made Simple
Take the guesswork out of a healthful diet with Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging. Our shopping and eating guides, over 300 recipes, tips and videos follow Dr. Weil's recommended anti-inflammatory principles for promoting better health, from head to toe. See what it's about - start your free trial today and save 30% when you join!

Meryl Gardner et al, "Foods and moods: Considering the future may help people make better food choices." ScienceDaily, February 12, 2014.

Healthy News About Yogurt

If you’re a yogurt fan, you may have already lowered your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, particularly if you eat yogurt in lieu of snacking on chips. A new study from Britain shows that yogurt eaters could cut the risk of type 2 diabetes by 28 percent over 11 years of follow up compared to those who ate no yogurt. In addition, the study team found that eating low-fat cheeses could also do the trick, leading to a 24 percent reduction in risk. To reach this conclusion, researchers from the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge collected data on 4,255 men and women enrolled in a larger British study. Among the participants, 753 developed type 2 diabetes over 11 years of follow up. A group of 3,502 people were randomly selected for comparison. When they reviewed the diets of this group, the researchers found that the amount of both high and low fat dairy products were not linked to the risk of diabetes once such factors as healthy lifestyles, education, other eating habits and total calorie intake were taken into account. However, the risk of developing diabetes was 28 percent lower among participants who consumed about four and a half standard 4.4-ounce containers of yogurt per week. The other dairy products that proved protective were low-fat un-ripened cheeses, low-fat cottage cheese and fromage frais, a fresh, low-fat curd cheese similar to cottage cheese. Including these dairy products in the diet reduced the diabetes risk by 24 percent compared with those in the study that did not consume these foods.

Nita G. Forouhi et al, “Dietary dairy product intake and incident type 2 diabetes: a prospective study using dietary data from a 7 day food diary,” Diabetologia, doi10.1007s00125-0143176-1