10/20/11 2:00am

Most Americans know health risks such as high blood cholesterol and blood sugar are important to monitor, but a growing number of researchers believe that other major factors with far–ranging effects on heart disease and cancer should be getting more attention. Among them is inflammation.

Basic healthy lifestyle choices are the key to fighting inflammation, but we need to beat the epidemic of excess abdominal obesity to take the most powerful anti–inflammation step of all. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that among 500 adults with diabetes, medical treatment reduced blood sugars to near normal levels, but markers of inflammation, present in all subjects, were not reduced. Researchers suggest that this may help explain why several large studies of heart disease among patients with type 2 diabetes did not show any lower risk of heart disease despite intensive blood sugar control. Reducing high blood sugar is crucial to limit small blood vessel damage in the kidney and eye caused by diabetes, but it doesn’t appear to be enough to stop the heart disease–diabetes link.

The body’s ability to respond to infections and injury with inflammation is an immediate response crucial to health. But chronic, low–grade inflammation seems to damage body tissues in ways that lead to and accelerate development of chronic health problems linked with age. Scientists now consider atherosclerosis, hardening of the arteries, an inflammatory process and inflammatory cells have been found in the fatty plaque that builds up in blood vessels. Inflammation may also promote cancer development by damaging genes, increasing cell turnover and increasing development of blood vessels that allow cancer cells to grow and spread.

A variety of lifestyle changes can reduce or prevent chronic low–grade inflammation. Studies show lower levels of inflammation markers in those who don’t smoke and those who exercise regularly. One recent study showed that several inflammation markers dropped within weeks among women in a smoking cessation program. Good dental care that prevents the gum inflammation known as gingivitis may even help to reduce overall body inflammation. Moderate exercise like walking seems to directly reduce signs of inflammation, even after adjusting for its impact on weight control.

A plant–based diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits and beans also seems to decrease inflammation. Studies link a Mediterranean–style diet with lower levels of an inflammation marker called CRP. Scientists emphasize that it’s the impact of the overall diet and whole foods that supplies interacting antioxidant and anti–inflammatory phytochemicals like carotenoids and flavonoids with vitamins like vitamin C that provide protection, rather than just a single compound. A Mediterranean–style diet is traditionally higher than the typical American diet in omega–3 fat, found especially in fish. A healthy balance between omega–3 and other fats reduces production of hormone–like substances that stimulate inflammation.

While all these lifestyle choices impact inflammation, research suggests that obesity may be the single largest influence. Fat cells secrete certain proteins such as interleukin–6 and tumor necrosis factor that stimulate inflammation throughout the body. Fortunately, even a modest 7 percent to 10 percent weight loss as part of a healthy lifestyle is enough to reduce markers of inflammation.

Karen Collins is a registered dietician and certified diabetes nutritionist with the American Institute for Cancer Research that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk.

07/11/11 8:05am

American Institute for Cancer Research certified nutritionist and registered dietician Karen Collins provides information on healthy choices to make in planning your meals and snacks.

Q: What kinds of vegetables are suitable for grilling?
A: Some of the classic vegetable choices for grilling include asparagus, corn on the cob, onions, mushrooms, peppers, zucchini and eggplant. Most of these can be grilled whole, as well as chopped and cooked in a grill basket or cut into chunks and skewered to make vegetable kabobs. Brush or toss them with a small amount of olive oil. Cooked on a grill at medium-high heat, most are ready after about three to five minutes per side. More dense vegetables like onions, sweet potatoes and eggplant may need double that time or more, depending on how large the pieces are. You can even grill vegetables in advance and serve them at room temperature on their own or in salads. Grilling brings out marvelous flavors in many vegetables, and it does not lead to the development of cancer-causing substances formed when meat and poultry are grilled.

Q: Is there any difference in the antioxidant levels of regular and decaf coffees and teas? Also, despite the antioxidant benefits, isn’t the caffeine still bad for you?
A: Compared to decaf, regular green tea contains about three times as much EGCG, the antioxidant phytochemical that has shown cancer-prevention effects in some laboratory studies. Similarly, decaf black tea, which contains another, less-studied antioxidant called theorubigin, has about 50 percent less than its regular counterpart. Limited research suggests that chlorogenic acid, one of the main antioxidants in coffee, may be lower in decaf coffee as well. However, even with decaf versions, the true antioxidant benefits you receive depends on how much you drink.
As for concerns about caffeine, when consumed in moderation, it may not be as bad as you think. Some studies now suggest that caffeine’s purported role in increasing blood pressure may not be linked as strongly to coffee and tea. Note that people with sleep difficulties, however, do need to be careful about the amount and timing of caffeine consumption. Also, most health experts suggest that pregnant women limit total daily caffeine from coffee, soft drinks and other sources to about 300 milligrams, the equivalent of three 6-ounce cups of regular coffee.

Q: Are iced-coffee drinks a sensible treat if I’m watching my weight?
A: A simple iced coffee or even an iced latte made with skim milk isn’t a problem if you leave out added flavorings and whipped cream and choose the smallest size. A 12-ounce iced latte or cappuccino made with skim milk usually contains about 130 calories; if made with 2 percent milk it might be closer to 160 calories. But if you add flavored syrups, whipped cream topping and other ingredients, the calorie content rises sharply. Portion size is key. The largest size at most of today’s popular coffee bars is usually 24 ounces and sometimes more. Order a large, and you could be getting up to 700 calories, lots of additional fat and almost a half-cup of sugar. Even if you skip the whipped cream, these jumbo servings still provide about 450 calories. While you may be looking for a light, refreshing snack, what you may get is a drink that’s equivalent to one or two portions of dessert. To enjoy iced coffee drinks without wreaking havoc on your diet, order nonfat versions, skip the whipped cream and slowly savor a small portion. If you’re very thirsty, quench your thirst with a cool glass of water first and then you’ll be able to fully savor your icy treat.

The American Institute for Cancer Research is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk.

12/13/10 10:35am

The following nutritional advice comes from Karen Collins at The American Institute for Cancer Research.

Q: Can green tea really help people lose weight?

A: Some studies suggest that two to four cups of green tea daily could provide some extra help when you cut calorie consumption and boost your activity to lose weight, but don’t expect it to produce a major loss. Natural compounds in green tea, especially a polyphenol known as EGCG, may support weight loss.

Studies that do show an effect of green tea or isolated EGCG show an average of about an extra one to three pounds of weight loss over several months, especially among those who are moderately obese. Some vitamin supplements or products that claim to promote weight loss list EGCG or green tea extract content but may contain an amount well below levels linked with weight loss in controlled studies. If you enjoy green tea, drinking two or three eight-ounce mugs or three to four six-ounce cups freshly brewed, not bottled, each day provides levels of EGCG associated with these modest improvements in weight loss.

Extracts or isolated EGCG in appropriate amounts may help, but when you get these compounds from drinking tea you may end up with additional help toward your weight loss goal. You’ll also reduce your total calorie consumption if you drink green tea plain or with just a teaspoon of sugar or honey instead of a sweetened beverage.

Q: Is it true that wraps are a lower calorie choice than regular sandwiches?

A: At some restaurants, the wraps are lower in calories than the traditional sandwich choices, but not always. A wrap reduces the excess calories that can come with oversize sub or sandwich rolls. However, just as important are total portion size and what’s inside.

At restaurants offering both traditional sandwiches and wraps, when wraps are smaller, they are usually lower in calories. But at restaurants where the two end up in equal size portions, the calorie comparison varies with what’s inside. For chain restaurants, you can often check the sandwiches’ calories online or at the restaurant.

When you make a wrap at home, it might be easy to think of each tortilla as a piece of bread, which would make two wraps the equivalent of one typical sandwich. But check your tortilla package: A 10-inch (plate-sized) regular tortilla or an eight-inch, thicker “gordita-style” tortilla is likely to contain 140 to 170 calories, making just one the equivalent of two servings of grains. As long as you’re not piling on other grains by adding rice or eating the wrap with chips, that’s nutritionally sound for a healthy meal, particularly if you choose whole-grain tortillas. For most of us, however, two wraps that size would push calories inappropriately high. If you like the feeling of abundance from having two wraps in a meal, choose the smaller six-inch corn tortillas, which are also excellent choices because they are whole grain and low fat.

Karen Collins is a registered dietician and certified nutritionist with The American Institute for Cancer Research, the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk.

12/06/10 2:14pm

The following column is provided by The American Institute for Cancer Research.

Q: Can lack of sleep really lead to weight gain?
A: Many, but not all, studies do show a link between lack of sleep and increased chances of being overweight among children and young or middle-aged adults. There may be several reasons for this. It’s possible that people who are overweight or obese are more likely to have lifestyles that include less sleep, whether because of working jobs with long, late hours or activities such as extended television viewing. However, some research suggests that lack of sleep — usually referring to less than six or seven hours a night for adults — can lead to choices that make weight control a challenge, such as when fatigue causes you to be less active or grab extra sweet drinks and snacks, or when staying up longer hours simply means having more time to eat. There are studies suggesting that lack of sleep can even lead to hormonal changes that increase appetite and the depositing of fat around the waist. Not everyone’s weight seems equally affected by lack of sleep, but if you’re short on sleep and gaining weight, getting to bed earlier may bring a variety of health benefits. Naps can also boost health, but so far no link has been found to weight control.

Q: I became a vegetarian to lose weight, but it’s not working.  Why?
A: Vegetarian eating can be very nutritious and sometimes the switch leads to weight loss, but it’s not an automatic ticket for weight loss. To lose weight, you’ve got to eat fewer calories than you burn up. Regular exercise is an important part of helping that to occur. Consider whether the foods you eat are very concentrated in calories. Some foods vegetarians eat as sources of protein — such as legumes, nuts, seeds and cheese — are higher in calories than poultry and lean meat. These plant sources of protein are important, but need to be balanced with plenty of low-calorie vegetables. Look at what you drink, too. Soft drinks aren’t the only beverages in which calories add up quickly; the same is true for juice, sweetened milk and milk alternative drinks and alcohol. Also consider whether you might be eating portions larger than you really need. Overeating, even with healthful food, will almost surely promote excess weight. Studies suggest that if people who are overeating take 25 percent smaller portions, they can often reduce calorie consumption without noticing any increase in hunger.

Q: If I drink orange juice with extra pulp, does that mean I’m getting the fiber?
A: You may be getting a little bit of fiber, but it doesn’t add up to the amount of fiber in even one-sixth of an orange. For all the orange juice products I checked, choosing the type with fiber doesn’t add any additional nutrients either. So when you drink juice, choose whichever form you most enjoy, and remember to include solid fruit — fresh, frozen, canned or dried with little or no sugar — for most of the three or four servings of fruit recommended for adults each day.

Karen Collins is a registered dietician and certified nutritionist with The American Institute for Cancer Research, the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk.

11/23/10 9:31pm

The following column is provided by The American Institute for Cancer Research.

Q: Are there steps that can reduce lung cancer risk in nonsmokers?
A: Tobacco is unquestionably the major cause of lung cancer, accounting for nearly nine out of 10 deaths from lung cancer. Yet that still leaves thousands of cases we wish we could prevent. Passive smoking, technically referred to as Environmental Tobacco Smoke, accounts for 3,000 deaths from lung cancer among nonsmokers in the United States each year according to a National Cancer Institute report. Making homes and workplaces nonsmoking territory is a major step to lower risk. It’s also important to follow recommended precautions to avoid radon, airborne asbestos and occupational exposure to other chemicals identified as carcinogens. Diet plays some role, too, though we need more research.
Increased amounts and variety of vegetables and fruits show the greatest potential for protection so far. Recently, a large population study in Europe linked greater variety of vegetable and fruit consumption with nearly a 25 percent drop in lung cancer risk; however, this was only significant among current smokers. An American Institute for Cancer Research report concludes that fruits and foods containing carotenoids — vegetables and fruits that are deep orange or dark green — probably help prevent lung cancer. Others include vegetables like broccoli, brussels sprouts and cauliflower, spinach and kale, and fruits and vegetables providing antioxidant flavonoid compounds may also work together to increase protection. Regular physical activity might help prevent lung cancer, in addition to its clearly beneficial effect on the risk of several other cancers.

Q:  Would Pilates exercises be an effective way to get rid of my belly fat?
A: Pilates-type exercises focus on strengthening the abdominal and back muscles. They also improve flexibility and joint mobility and build strength. Primarily using one’s own body weight as resistance, participants are put through a series of progressive, range-of-motion exercises, which also include attention to the mind/body connection. Adherents say Pilates can help you develop long, strong muscles, a flat stomach, a strong back and improved posture. But this doesn’t take care of the problem of layers of fat on top of those muscles. If you have an unhealthy amount of fat there, you probably need to change the calorie balance in your diet. Take a look at your eating habits to see where you might be eating or drinking a couple hundred extra calories a day. Also, since Pilates-type exercises are generally done just two days a week, look for other types of exercise to do on the other days for overall health and to burn off some of that excess body fat you’ve stored.

Karen Collins is a registered dietician and certified nutritionist with The American Institute for Cancer Research, a cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk.