Archive for October, 2011|Monthly archive page

How Sweet it is – the Sequel

In Uncategorized on October 31, 2011 at 11:50 am

Recently I published a post about artificial sweeteners, inspired by the curious scientific mind of Dr. Val.  I left off at a point of confusion, hanging between the companies that make aspartame and the companies that market sugar.  Science is hard enough to do properly when honest people are trying to find honest answers.

Throw millions of dollars and professional egos into the mix and who knows how much harder it is to get honest answers.

That is the situation we’re in, trying to find the truth in a confusing mix of sponsored science.  Rather than continue this debate scientist versus that scientist or one company versus the other, I want to make it simple.  You’re used to that from me by now, right?

I see this from 2 angles.  First is simply effectiveness.  I think things should work or not be used.  My patients can tell you how often I focus on this.  Why take a medicine that’s not doing what it’s supposed to?

Same goes with artificial sweeteners.  Industry has worked at this for over 100 years, trying to find a way to give us our sweets without a price.  In all that time, with all the chemicals invented, we’ve never found one that works.

“What do you mean, Doc?  Of course it works.  It’s sweet and zero calories, isn’t that the goal?”

That may be a goal but it’s not the important one, at least not to me.  What are we  trying to do with artificial sweeteners?  Enjoy the sweet taste and yet not gain weight, right?

This is where the fakes have failed.  We’ve never found that diet pop or those little blue packets help people lose weight.  In fact, a recent study (not funded by either group of companies) showed that people who routinely drank diet soda were on average heavier than those that drank regular pop.  To me, this is proof of failure.  If fooling your taste buds can’t fool your waistline, why bother?

The second point is more likely to get mixed up with science geeks and chemical formulas – but let’s not.  Simply put, the most popular artificial sweetener, aspartame, becomes two different chemicals as soon as it passes through the liver.  Methanol is a toxic by-product of alcohol distilling that can cause blindness; formaldehyde is an embalming chemical you smelled in biology class when frog dissection time came around.

The little blue packets and almost every brand of diet soda out there turns into these two chemicals in your liver.  Does that sound like a good thing to you?  Me either!

If it doesn’t work to help weight loss and it turns into poison in my liver, why would I let it through my lips?  I don’t and maybe you should reconsider too…

Change Your Food, Change Your Life!


How Sweet it is

In Diet and Weight, Food and Health on October 20, 2011 at 11:56 am

I got an email from @DrVal the other day.  She has been picked to be the National Nutrition Coach for the Boys and Girls Clubs Fit Family Challenge – quite an honor.  She’ll be coaching 5 families who are competing to make the biggest turnaround in their health.

I come into this story because she has decided to use my book Food Truths, Food Lies as her curriculum for the program.   Because the corporate sponsor of the Fit Families Challenge is Coke (gah), Dr Val and I were joking about how my book might be taken.  I only dedicate a chapter each to the evils of Coke, juice (they own MinuteMaid) and artificial sweeteners (Diet Coke is the second biggest selling soft drink in America.)

We settled on her recommending Dasani water, also a Coke brand.  Dr. Val wanted to push back on me about my stance on artificial sweeteners.  We sent a few emails back and forth over the weekend, me trying to keep up with her brain (wow, can she dissect a scientific study!)

As I reviewed the information I used to form my opinion as I wrote Food Truths, I was struck by how divided and unreliable the studies seem to be.

Most of the studies were sponsored by NutraSweet or another company directly linked to diet drinks.  Surprise, surprise, those studies all say how safe aspartame is for you, your kids, your baby, you name it.  The other large group of studies (though still in the minority) were sponsored by The Sugar Council or some such lobbyist group intent on going back to the good old days before NutraSweet.

Again, to my shock and amazement (sarcasm alert), these studies seem to show how bad aspartame is.  Unfortunately, the few studies not funded by either of these biased groups are so small they are hard to put much stock in.  What’s a guy (or girl) to do?

Stay tuned for part 2…


In Family Doctor, Food and Health, Junk Food, Organic Food on October 17, 2011 at 12:02 pm
Broccoli on doctorfoodtruth

“If you have to squint to read the ingredients you probably shouldn’t eat it.”

No piece of brocoli or potato or head of lettuce was ever required to have an ingredients label.  It’s only once a factory gets involved that you have to beware of what you might be eating.

That a factory is involved in something you are planning to fuel your body with seems like a pretty bad idea.

So my rule, and the one I suggest to my patients, is that if you have to squint to read the ingredients, you probably shouldn’t eat it.

Humans cook.  We have for as long as we’ve been civilized, maybe longer.   Cooking and eating are some of the greatest joys of life.  I’m not raw or vegan but once you get beyond 4, 5, maybe 6 ingredients, you probably have something going wrong.

When you get “food” that has microscopic print and words you’ve never even heard of on the label, I promise you don’t want to put that into your system.  All those chemicals become part of you and stick around for who knows how long – don’t even go there.

Simple foods, whether you make them yourself or buy them from companies that don’t go crazy with additives, can make you feel much better, much healthier, and even help you stay away from me.

Eat Healthfully, Live Fully Healthy!

In Uncategorized on October 12, 2011 at 9:05 am

A great rant here from an inspiring Pediatrician. I can usually shrug off the feeling that patients will take their mom’s neighbor’s cousin’s advice over mine. Drkay may have really hit it with her insight. My advice gets ignored when there are faster results promised by someone else. I just need to speed up!
Unfortunately, my body won’t and neither will yours — those ‘quick fixes’ are really just a quick way to part us and our money.
The ONLY thing that works is one day, one meal, one choice at a time. Change your food, change your life!


Sometimes I wonder if people are listening. I’m overweight but I know why! I eat too much of the wrong things. I am changing that. It’s not easy. I’m in the strange area where I am doing that and counseling people to do that. Today I had an interesting conversation with a coworker. She asked me about my punching bag in my office. She states she is getting gastric bypass and needs to lose weight. She was advised to exercise and thinks this would be cool to have for exercise at home. I agree. I love my punching bag. The doctor in me says you know you have to change your eating habits too.  She tells me she knows and has talked about this with the gastric bypass people and the psychiatrist.  She needs to lose 20 lbs before surgery.  I think the conversation is cool until she says I need…

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Don’t Buy New Pants!

In Diet and Weight, Gluten-free, Mindful Eating on October 10, 2011 at 11:56 am
Trousers on doctorfoodtruth

I’ve had many patients ask me about my weight and eating habits over the years.  Many assume that I’ve never had to worry about my weight and am just naturally slim. The truth is that I have terrible genes related to weight and other health issues.

I have family members on both sides that weigh over 400 pounds.  No one on either side of my family seems immune to struggle with weight and many have more struggle than success.

Personally, I have gained over 15 pounds in one month and know I could become overweight if I’m not careful. The month I gained so much weight was my first as an intern at the hospital.  Anyone who has every watched ER or Scrubs has some idea how much we make our brand-new doctors work and I was no exception.

The hospital I worked at was very generous with our food allowance.  There was no real limit on how much or how often I could hit the cafeteria.  So, exhausted and stressed, that’s what I did!  The omelet and waffle station was my favorite (this was before the whole gluten thing came up) and I paid as little attention to my diet as most 20-somethings.

By the end of my first month I had worked over 400 hours, eaten a bajillion calories and gained 15 pounds. I’m not a big scale-watcher, so the first hint of a problem was when I swapped the blue pajama scrubs for slacks to do my first office rotation. They didn’t fit!

Oh, I squeezed into them and made it through the day. Right then, I made a decision. I had fit that waist size since college and couldn’t afford new pants.  So, no more waffle-and-omelet 3,000 calorie breakfasts.  It took about three months but I lost those 15 pounds, fit my old pants again and latched onto my “weight alarm system.”

Ever since then, if I feel my pants start to tighten, I review my eating habits, find the problem and fix it before I have a “bigger” issue!  That’s what I mean by not buying new pants.  I firmly believe we all need to have something outside ourselves that will warn us if we head the wrong way.  For me, my waistband works great.  I encourage you to find your warning system and let it keep you healthy!

Change Your Food, Change Your Life!

“Budget” Tips, Part 2 (recycled)

In Diet and Weight, Excercise, Family Doctor, Mindful Eating on October 6, 2011 at 12:02 pm
budget pie chart on doctorfoodtruth

Continuation of a two-part post translating money budgeting tips to healthy food choice/diet advice. The original article from The San Francisco Chronicle has 6 tips and #4, 5, and 6 are right here!

4) Increase your income rather than simply decreasing your spending. This was the one bit my ‘money man’ @PeteThePlanner objected to, since it can just send people back to the work-spend-work treadmill that is such a soul-killer. Ms. Mueller suggests taking on a part-time job to help ease the budget. Will the resulting overwork just make me feel even more deprived and deserving of the splurges and lifestyle that ruin a budget in the first place!

Interestingly, this is a piece of advice I am reluctant to teach in the food and diet realm too. Despite what Richard Simmons and Tony Little would tell you, I do not think exercise is the path to weight loss. I go into detail about this in my book, Food Truths, Food Lies, but in brief: It takes moments to eat or drink hundreds of calories and hours to burn them off.

The math is pretty simple and not knowing this leads to great frustration for millions. “Why isn’t the Ab-Roller making me skinny?!?” My painful but true answer: “Because it can’t.” Getting a part-time job to make ends meet is equal to planning to hit the treadmill to make up for a banana split. Who is really going to spend the 3 hours it takes to burn those 1,200 calories? And if I do put in that much sweat and effort, don’t I deserve a reward? More ice cream! Oops.

5) Spend money on maintenance. The SanFran article goes into the wisdom of keeping your stuff in good working order to prevent financially disastrous repair bills. You know, skipping the $30 oil change to “save money” then paying for the $2,000 engine overhaul. Not smart.

As a Family Physician, I believe this wholeheartedly. Fixing the diabetes or heart attack or cancer is so much harder than keeping our bodies healthy and whole in the first place. Avoiding obesity by being aware of food choices and calories is so much easier than struggling to lose those 50 deadly pounds. Please don’t neglect your amazing body! Doing that will always come back to haunt you.

6) Don’t panic about your non-existent savings account. In her last turn-it-all-on-it’s-head piece of advice, Ms. Mueller gives us permission to not panic about a lack of savings. Yes, it’s important, she says, but “If you take money away from paying off an interest-bearing debt in order to put it in a savings account, you’ll likely be losing money…” In other words, priorities matter. Some things are always more important than others. For her, paying off high-interest credit cards is numero uno.

For health, I think this means needing to accept where we are while working to change. If you have diabetes, please don’t stop your medicine so you can concentrate on weight loss. If my cholesterol is already dangerously high, quitting my medicine so I can use the money to buy organic at Whole Foods would be crazy.

Yes, health is always improvable. Yes, we should all want to be well. Yes, the effort is worth it. None of these truths mean I should stop doing the little things to pursue some grand health goal.

As a bonus tip, Mueller ends with the advice to stop being so secretive. She thinks using positive peer pressure is a great idea to help us stick to our budgets. If you’re going to make a change, tell someone you trust. Let them help you stick to it when it gets a little tough, as it certainly will.

For health and wellbeing, ditto. Join a group (Weight Watchers is great,) challenge a friend to join you, blog about it — make it known. We humans are social critters and having support is crucial in any worthwhile endeavor.

The last piece of advice that we always need? Get going!

Change Your Food, Change Your Life!

“Budget” Tips, Part 1 (recycled)

In Diet and Weight, Food and Health, Mindful Eating on October 3, 2011 at 12:01 pm
Dollar sign on doctorfoodtruth

I got an interesting tweet from @SamTheTrainer a few days ago.  She found a San Francisco Chronicle article about budgets and suggested what I’ve written about in the past, that money and calories require the same skills to manage.

After consulting with the smartest money man I know, @PeteThePlanner, and hearing that the budget advice was (mostly) good, I decided to post a side-by-side comparison.

The SFC article has 6 points, each of which easily translates to dietary advice.  Unfortunately, the article is longer than my attention span 😉  so I’ll break it into two parts, today and Thursday.

1) Indulge in what matters to you.  The author Annie Mueller wisely points out that if I feel deprived, I’m more likely to have what I miss the most stuck in my mind.  This is no way to live or succeed, since most of us eventually give in to cravings.  Instead, she suggests cutting optional things that DON’T give pleasure but keeping the “important” ones.

I think in terms of diet and healthy food choices, this is absolutely the top of the list for both budgeting reasons.  Deprivation makes me grumpy and more likely to choose poorly, so I should avoid it if possible.  Instead, I cut my calorie budget where I don’t mind: I won’t miss the gravy as much as the dessert, I like orange juice but would rather be without it than without Fritos, and so on.  No food is all bad but some is much more good than others and some foods make me much happier than others.  Find and remove those high-calorie but low-enjoyment foods and start saving your calories!

2) Don’t automatically choose the cheapest option.  Ms. Mueller returns to the old advice “you get what you pay for,” which is so true in multiple areas of life.  The cheaper car may end up costing much more in the long run once you figure in the fuel and maintenance costs, the cheaper shirt may need dry-cleaning or just not last long enough to be worthwhile.  Looking ahead to the “costs of ownership” is key to planning your monetary budget.

Your calorie “budget” is similar.  You may save $2 and 5 minutes by going to McDonald’s instead of Subway, but if that gets you an extra 200 calories along with it, not such a great deal.  (Not that Subway isn’t full of calorie traps too…)  The cheaper food is tempting for today’s budget.  I must remember to think “What is that ‘savings’ going to cost in the long haul?”

How will that extra 10 pounds feel to lug around all next year?  What are the costs of seeing your doctor and pharmacist much more often when diabetes or heart disease set in?  I think the long-term “costs of eating” should always figure into your grocery and restaurant decisions.

3) Skip the coupons.  Here the advice starts to get even more counter-intuitive, but keep in mind that coupons aren’t printed for your benefit but for the food companies’.  The lure of saving $1 can be enough to get me to buy something I wouldn’t have otherwise.  As Ms. Mueller says, “wouldn’t it be better to save the total price by not buying the item at all?”

This doesn’t need translation to apply to my waist line.  It’s a good bet that the products with coupons won’t be the healthiest choices at the market.  Somehow, I seem to get more “free burrito” coupons from Chipotle than “free humus” from the vegetarian place.  Hmmm.

Stay tuned Thursday for tips 4, 5, and 6!

Eat Healthfully, Live Fully Healthy!