A TV Diet: A Nutritional No-No

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Watching TV is already linked with several negative health outcomes, here’s one possible reason why.

A new study has found that if we were to base our diet entirely on foods in TV ads, we would be eating 25 times the recommended servings of sugars and 20 times the recommended servings of fat. Our diet would provide less than half of the recommended servings of vegetables, dairy, and fruits.

The study is published in this month’s Journal of the American Dietetic Association. You can read the abstract here.

The study analyzed food ads during 84 hours of primetime and 12 hours of Saturday morning shows over a 28-day period. The result was about 800 food ads. After analyzing the food’s nutritional content and serving size, researchers compared the food item to the recommended Daily Values (based on a 2,000 calorie daily diet) and the Food Guide Pyramid.

The average observed foods contained too many serving of sugars, fat, and meat and too few servings of dairy, fruit and vegetables. These foods also oversupplied 8 nutrients – including sodium, saturated fat, and thiamin – and undersupplied 12 nutrients, many of which are linked with heath benefits, including vitamins A, D, and E.

You may not knowingly base your diet on TV ads but media messages are powerful influencers of our eating behavior, suggest the authors. (By age 65, according to the study, the average person will have seen about 2 million ads on television, a lot of which are for food.)

The authors recommend several strategies to increase awareness and change. You could also watch a little less TV.

AICR’s expert report found that watching a lot of television probably increases the risk of overweight and obesity. And excess body fat causes seven types of cancer, along with several other health disorders.

Is there a food ad you find particularly bothersome? Or one that you love?

A Heavier Plate for Cancer Prevention?

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Of the days’ worth of food below, which do you think would be more filling?

The food on the right is certainly more colorful and offers a lot more to eat than the few choices on the left.

A new AICR review of the research on calorie (or energy) density and weight loss has found that diets low in calorie density can play an important role in efforts to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

The photo above is a great example of how calorie density works. Both 1575 calories, the food on the right contains more low calorie-dense foods – fewer calories, but more food weight.

Low calorie dense foods, such as fruits and non-starchy vegetables have a lot of water, so by filling up on these, you satisfy your hunger, but eat fewer calories.

Read more about how to make your plate heavier, but with fewer calories.

The AICR brochure More Food, Fewer Calories contains strategies on following a low-calorie dense diet along with more information on the health benefits.

After you’ve tried some of these ideas, share your successes with us.

Photos: Dr. Barbara Rolls, Penn State University, used with permission.

Obesity and Inactivity: The Evolutionary Perspective

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AICR’s expert report concluded that carrying excess body fat is a convincing cause of six different cancers (colorectal, postmenopausal breast, esophageal, endometrial, kidney and pancreatic) and a probable cause of gallbladder cancer as well.  That means that in the US alone, obesity is responsible for over 100,000 cancer cases every year.

And as obesity figures continue to rise, that number is likely to grow even larger.

How did we get here?

Last week, at the 3rd International Congress on Physical Activity and Public Health, many researchers presented data tracking recent trends in the amount of leisure-time physical activity we’re getting, nowadays. But one of the keynote speakers, Dr. William Leonard of Northwestern University, presented an intriguing talk that took the long view.

The very long view.

Like, hundreds of thousands of years long.

Dr. Leonard is an  anthropologist, you see.  He talked about how humans evolved, specifically how how changes in our diet and activity level changed our body type.

Basically, said Dr. Leonard, as our brains got bigger, they placed larger demands on our metabolism, and our diets became more nutrient- and calorie-dense to support them.

Leonard proposed that the recent and much-talked about uptick in the calorie-density of our foods over the past few decades (higher fat content, larger portion sizes) is simply an extension of what’s been happening to us, on an evolutionary scale, for millions of years.  But the difference is key: dietary changes that used to to take thousands and thousands of years to occur have happened within a single lifetime.

Even so, he suggested that we might be missing the real story by focusing so much on the increase in calories in our diets.  In fact, he notes, while calorie content of the diet in the developed world has increased since the fifties, that increase leveled off in the 80s.  Yet obesity rates continued, and continue, to rise.

To explain this, he suggests that it’s decreased calorie expenditure that plays a larger role in obesity than caloric intake.

Throughout our evolution, our caloric intake increased to match greater and greater needs we placed upon our bodies – hunting calorie-dense animals is more demanding than gathering low-calorie-dense crops. But this eon-old trend toward increased calorie-burning is now experiencing a dramatic reversal: Our jobs have become much more sedentary since the 80s and the advent of the computer.

Our bodies have evolved over millions of years to actively and effectively meet our caloric needs from the environment. But now we’re suddenly accelerating the trend toward more calories – and by changing the physical environment to make things easier, we’re reversing the evolutionary trend toward burning more calories.

The net effect: we’re upsetting an equilibrium our species has managed to maintain for thousands and thousands of years.