health + diet

Move Over, Cows. Almond Milk Has Arrived.

Calvin and Hobbes via United Feature Syndicate

Calvin and Hobbes via United Feature Syndicate

Got milk? Gotten milk recently? 
The dairy case is overflowing with milk alternatives—creamy liquids derived from non-dairy sources. Alt-milk is a hot commodity, even as cow’s milk has been in a decades-long decline. And it’s not just the lactose-intolerant or dairy-allergic who are buying it. TV commercials are daring consumers to try it just for the taste.

Fat, cholesterol, animal welfare, pesticides, GMOs….there are plenty of reasons to give up dairy milk.
We know that a cow’s life on a dairy farm is hardly the bucolic idyll of our imaginations. Supporters of animal rights and anyone looking to avoid growth hormones and antibiotics are all on the lookout for alternatives to large-scale dairy producers. There are also vegans, the allergic and lactose intolerant, and anyone looking to reduce fat and cholesterol.

Most people, when they first look beyond dairy milk, make a stop at soy milk. But there is growing awareness that soy is a high spray, intensively farmed, rain forest-depleting crop, plus most of the soy grown in the U.S. is genetically-modified. There are also concerns that the estrogen-like chemicals naturally occurring in soy have been linked with an increased risk of breast cancer, and doctors are recommending that we limit our soy intake.

Nut milk first appeared on supermarkets shelves in the late 1990’s when their square, shelf-stable boxes were mostly relegated to the natural and health food aisles. The game-changer took place at the end of 2009 when almond mild was repackaged as a fresh beverage and was slotted into the refrigerator case. The demand took grocers by surprise, and they have continued to add more space for the category.

Almond milk has pulled ahead of the alt-milk pack.
It’s made with roasted almonds that are crushed like you’re making almond butter, then thinned with water. Commercial producers usually add vitamins, stabilizers and, in some cases, a sweetener and flavorings like chocolate or vanilla. Almond milk is especially low in calories, compared with dairy as well as the other milk alternatives, and it’s low in fat and high in protein.

It also wins the alt-milk taste test.
Not that it’s much of a contest: rice milk is thin and watery, oat milk is thick and gloopy, and hemp milk is chalky and tart. Almond milk tastes slightly sweet with slightly bitter undertones. It’s very creamy, has an off-white color, and foams impressively for cappuccinos. It’s a good dairy substitute for cooking and baking, and it’s so nutty-good poured on top of dry cereal that you’ll wonder why you waited so long to try it.


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Should You Just Say No to Kale?



You know by now that food can be addictive.
Studies have even shown that certain foods can light up the same region of the brain as heroin and cocaine. We’re told to stay away from things like chips and cookies because they’re loaded with the kinds of processed and refined carbohydrates that trigger our junk-food cravings. But other studies show that choosing healthy foods—leafy greens, fruits, and salads—can promote something called ‘vicarious goal fulfillment’ that convinces us to eat even more junk.

Picture two menus.
One menu offers burgers and fries. Some people will choose a burger only; some add fries to their burger orders.
The other menu has the same burgers, same fries, but it also offers a side salad. It seems logical that there are still some burger-only orders; some of the burger-only folks will now add a salad; some of the burger-with-fries will stick with fries; and some will switch from fries to a salad. You’d figure that the orders would go up by a few salads and down by a few fries.

It doesn’t work like that.
When a salad option is added, french fry orders actually increase. In fact three times as many diners will go for the fries when a salad is on the menu. Apparently the mere presence of healthy options encourages us to make unhealthy choices. The findings were the same, whether it was Oreos or fried chicken, salad or veggie burgers.

Researchers confirm that this ‘vicarious goal fulfillment’ happens when a person feels that a goal has been met if they have taken even a teeny, tiny step towards it. It’s like joining a gym you never get to, or buying an important book that sits on the shelf.
The fleeting thought of ‘Hmm, I could have a salad,’ is enough to satisfy dietary goals.

It’s an ironic kind of indulgence.
There is a certain logic to it. The researchers contend that the virtue conferred by the salad gave diners license to lower their guard. And the more self-disciplined an individual is, the more powerful the effect—the healthiest test subjects were actually the most likely to add fries from the second menu.

Kale as a gateway drug?
I’ll bet it’s news to you. But you can bet it’s not to the fast food industry.


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Your World is Awash in Pig Products

image via 52 Infographics in 52 Weeks

Things With Pig in Them – image via 52 Infographics in 52 Weeks


You probably had a dozen or so pig encounters before you even left your house this morning.
Pig-derived ingredients add color to soap, a pearly sheen to shampoo, and give texture to toothpaste. They’re the moist in moisturizer, the anti-cling of fabric softener, and the reason that crayons smell that way. Shoe leather, cell phone batteries, laundry soap, wallpaper, sponges—they can all harbor pig byproducts.

Then there’s the pig that you don’t know you’re eating.
Pig-derived ingredients and processing agents make unannounced appearances in every aisle of the supermarket. A multi-tasking gelatin made from pig bones and skin puts the chew in gum and licorice and the creaminess in cheesecake and tiramisu. It smooths out cream cheese and whipped cream and makes ice cream melt more slowly. Beer, wine, and fruit juices are filtered through pig gelatin, and it’s turned into pill coatings and capsule casings for thousands of prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Squishy soft bread and sandwich wraps stay pliable because of an added protein that’s extracted from pig hair, and a pig skin-derived protein is added to energy bars and yogurt. Another protein, this one from clotted pig blood, is used to bind the smaller scraps of beef or fish that appear in fresh and frozen form as portion-controlled filets. Even the plate you eat from can contain ash from pig bones, and your napkin was probably made with more of that gelatin.

It’s a staggering, stunning array of food and non-food uses for pig parts.
To say the least. It’s deeply troubling if you’re vegan or vegetarian, keep kosher or eat halal, or just want to avoid pig products. The fact that most of the products don’t have to be labeled with the information is the real shocker.

Pig-derived food additives are hiding in plain sight.
Processors will deliberately remove the word ‘animal’ from their ingredient list. For example, hydrolyzed animal protein becomes hydrolyzed collagen, and animal protein is labeled L-cysteine. There are thousands more technical and patented names for variations on pig-based food additives. Some probably sound familiar if you read a lot of product packaging, but you probably didn’t know that glycerides, sodium stearoyl lactylate, and oleic acid can all be derived from pig byproducts. Adding to the confusion are the pig parts that don’t wind up in the final product but are used in the manufacturing process like bone char that’s used to whiten sugar and gelatin that removes tannins from wine. These don’t even have to be mentioned by the manufacturer.

Learn what’s really in your pantry. The PETA website maintains a list of common animal-derived ingredients.

Phone apps like Is It Vegan? and Animal-Free are handy reference guides for many common and hidden animal ingredients.

See if your favorite beer, wine, or spirit is animal-free. Barnivore maintains a massive and up-to-date vegan alcohol directory with nearly 15,000 entries.

Posted in food knowledge, vegetarian/vegan | 1 Comment

Detox Away the Turkey Weight

image via

image via


Are you feeling the turkey weight?
The typical Thanksgiving meal was a whopping 4,500 calories. That’s two day’s-worth of food for most of us, or, to put it in especially vivid perspective, the equivalent of nine large orders of McDonald’s fries. 
Is it any wonder that you woke up feeling overstuffed and bloated?

This holiday season is just getting going.
It’s too soon to be feeling a pinch in your waistband. But it’s the perfect time for a between-holidays detox. Flush the alcohol, sugar, and toxins out of your body now and you can boost your immune system and improve metabolic function through the rest of the season.

There are plenty of online resources to prep you for a few more weeks of bacchanalian excess.
Detoxification blogs like The Detoxinista and Detox the World are full of seasonal suggestions..
A variety of approaches are taken by smartphone detox apps:

The app from Juice Master has a 3-day juice detox  that will have you losing up to five pounds in just 72 hours.

How to Detox Your Body leaves you sparkling on the inside with colon cleansing regimens. Detox Diet Pro claims to do the same but without enemas and colonic. This app shows you how to flush out the liver, intestines, kidneys, lungs, skin, blood, and lymphatic systems through a very high fiber diet.

The Health Detox promotes an acid and alkaline balanced diet that claims to boost your energy level by optimizing your body’s pH balance.

There are apps for detoxing on all raw foods, or by following the lemon regimen popularized by Beyoncé’s post-partum detox. You can find gender-specific detox apps like Body Detox 4 Women and Man Up Detox, or learn to detox with smoothies.

The Official Online Holiday Detox Kit professes to understand:
to overdo it is human. to overdo it over the holidays is almost mandatory. we’re here to help. choose your flavor of holiday splurging, confess your excess, and get the perfect detox plan.”
Just enter your specific overindulgence into the quick and easy online tool and it suggests the appropriate cure.

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Food for a Senior Moment

image via R2 Thoughts 4 You

image via R2 Thoughts 4 You


We’re having a national senior moment.
Baby boomers are a demographic time bomb. Nearly one-third of the population was born between 1946 and 1964. Even the tail end has reached the age of memory loss, slowed reflexes, and synaptic glitches.
That’s 75 million Americans that can’t remember what they went upstairs for.

Brain foods can make a real difference.
In the same way that a low cholesterol diet can keep plaque from forming in arteries, there are foods that can keep plaque from forming in your brain. You can unclog your cognitive functions just like you can unclog your arteries.

There are also foods that can sharpen your focus and concentration, enhance your memory, and speed your reaction times.
There’s no magic bullet that can prevent the inevitable decline, but there are food that can keep it at bay.
If you are one of those baby boomers, maybe you should write them down.

Nothing preserves cognitive ability like wild salmon.
That’s right, wild— not just any salmon will do. Farmed salmon doesn’t develop the same quality or level of essential fatty acids that make wild salmon the ultimate brain food.
matcha Just like the wild variety is souped-up salmon, matcha is high-test green tea.

Matcha is a type of Japanese green tea that is ground into a powder. Instead of drinking an extract, like what you get when tea leaves are brewed, you consume the whole thing dissolved into the beverage. The brain buzz of focus and clarity is exponentially greater, and immediately noticeable. And the Kermit-green shade? That’s how it’s supposed to look.

The brain boost from caffeine or sugar is short-lived but real. They both can make you alert and focused. Too much sugar, though, can actually interfere with your memory.

acai pears

The acai berry is one of those fruits, like pomegranates and blueberries before them, that’s captured the attention of the ‘superfoods’ crowd for its potent nutrition. On paper acai’s profile actually looks more like fish than fruit: high in protein and the essential fatty acids our brains desire. Its juice is showing up blended into all kinds of things like yogurt, sorbet nut butters, tea, soda; even Absolut acai vodka.



Turmeric is the hot new discovery in brain research. It’s a mildly-flavored, deep yellow spice that is always found in curry powder, and is often used as a less costly alternative to saffron. Turmeric is such a powerful brain plaque-remover that it’s being tested as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

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Portly Pet Owners Produce Pudgy Pets

[Winners of the  ‘I Look Like My Dog’ contest from Cesar Select Dinners]


If every dog has its day, then the fat ones have next Wednesday.
October 9 is National Pet Obesity Awareness Day.

Our pets, just like their human owners, are fat. About half of all dogs in American homes are overweight or obese, which can lead to very human health issues like hypertension, diabetes, and joint problems. In the same way that one dog-year translates to seven human-years, dog-pounds have a much larger human equivalent. For some breeds, a single dog-pound can translate to as much as 25 excess human-pounds in terms of its physical toll.

Dogs share their owners’ lifestyles.
A generation ago, the notion of overweight pets would have struck us as ludicrous. But today we live increasingly in yard-less apartments and we build suburban developments with no sidewalks. Dogs are couch potato companions, joining us in front of TVs and computer screens. Walks are brief, primarily for the elimination of waste, and the dogs are left behind when we get our own exercise at the gym.

We project our foodie-isms onto our dogs.
You can buy dog food in locally-sourced, seasonal, organic, vegan, and slow food varieties, like the Well Fed Dog’s Salmon and Pumpkin Dinner, which uses only organic Scottish salmon ($9.95 for a 16 oz. serving), and Succulent Chicken poached in garlic-infused lobster consommé from Petropic’s Hawaiian-themed Tiki meals ($4.29 for a 14.1 oz. can). Even Purina has its Chef Michael’s Carvery Creations line that comes in flavors like brisket and braised short ribs (99¢ for a 3 oz. can).

The fact is that dogs have a mere fraction of our taste buds, and they will pretty much eat anything—they’re known to be especially fond of socks and cat feces. But these high-protein, high-fat diets suit more than just the dog owners’ culinary sensibilities—the easily digestible foods combined with little exercise mean that there are fewer calls of nature, and walks can be less frequent.

We have also come up with pet obesity solutions that mirror our own.
Jenny Craig diet has partnered with Nestlé for a proprietary regimen, Project:Pet Slimdown, and Pfizer Pharmaceutical markets Slentrol, an FDA-approved prescription weight-loss drug for dogs. There are Jog a Dog canine treadmills and Thank Dog Boot Camp workouts. And just like human weight-loss methods, the failure rates are high.

Fat owners make fat dogs
The twin obesity epidemics are tightly entwined. Studies show that we are as indulgent with our dogs as with ourselves.
We need fewer calories in the bowl and more miles on the feet. It’s the best advice for both dogs and owners. You and your dog will still look alike, only better.

What kind of dog would you be?
The doggie equivalent of a 217 pound 5’ 9” man is a 90 pound Labrador retriever. If a 12 pound Yorkie were human she’d be a 5’4″ women who weighs 218 pounds. The Pet Weight Translator can turn you into a dog, and vice versa.

Posted in diversions, health + diet | 1 Comment

We Have It Backwards. Eat Dessert First.


cupcake breakfast via Saucy Sprinkles

cupcake breakfast via Saucy Sprinkles


We have it all backwards.
A slew of new research has come out telling us to eat more desserts. It’s good nutrition, good for your teeth, and even good for weight loss.
It’s like a childhood dream come true.

A little dessert does a lot of good at mealtime.
The problem with a very low-fat diet is that many nutrients can’t be adequately absorbed. Vitamins A, D, E, and K, and the carotenoids in green, leafy vegetables are examples of fat-soluble nutrients; they’re virtually useless if they land in the digestive tract without some fat. That’s where dessert comes in—eggs, butter, creamy fillings—we can always count on desserts to provide the fat.

Dessert can help you stick with a diet. 
A diet is a constant tug-of-war between desire and will power. Studies show that dieters who ease up a little will have greater self-control in the long run, while a single-minded focus on the effort to avoid sweets entirely can create a psychological addiction to the very foods they want to avoid.

Eat dessert first.
The best compliance came from dieters who had dessert before dinner. The gratification comes first, making it easier to stick with the healthy foods that come later. Dessert first also causes you to feel full more quickly, and the sense of satiety lasts longer. It’s no illusion: the denser, fattier dessert will settle heavily in the gut and stick around longer than the diet foods that follow.

Dessert for breakfast. 
The old adage instructs us to eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dine like a pauper. That’s because a big and balanced breakfast fires up the metabolism for better fat burning throughout the day. Add a dessert to the meal and it seems to give the metabolism an extra boost. It also suppresses the production of ghrelin, the hormone that increases hunger, and less ghrelin means fewer late-day cravings.

Sweets for breakfast, dessert before dinner—some rules really are made to be broken.

Summaries of both the ‘dessert first study‘ and the ‘dessert for breakfast study‘ can be found in Science Daily.


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When I Get Old I’m Eating Donuts Every Day

Koehler Senior Center Donut Protest/AP photo

Koehler Senior Center Donut Protest/AP photo


Sometimes a senior’s donut hole really is just a pastry.

For years, the clientele at Mahopac, NY’s William Koehler Senior Center enjoyed free day-old donuts and other baked goods donated by area bakeries. Then the city council passed a law forbidding the donations.

According to city council member Karl Rove:
We want our seniors to live as long as possible, and these sweets can only contribute to obesity. With obesity come high blood pressure, circulation problems, and diabetes. So we are doing this for their own good.” 

Even Michael F. Jacobson, the Executive Director of The Center for Science in the Public Interest chimed in on the matter: 
“Older people have high rates of heart disease and high blood pressure and…senior citizen centers, nursing homes, and assisted-living centers should not be worsening the health problems of seniors.

The affected seniors organized a protest to keep the free donuts coming.
One center resident, Mr. Fairbanks grumbled, “Where do they get this attitude? They act like they are our parents.”
The seniors argued that no public funds were being used to purchase the baked goods, and their eight decades or so of life certainly should have earned them the right to eat what they want. And now it seems they might also have science on their side.

For people over 75, a sugary, fatty diet doesn’t make a difference.
A restrictive diet probably won’t improve their health or help them to live longer. So says a decade-long study sponsored by the United States Department of Agriculture and researched by Penn State, the Geisinger Healthcare System, and the University of Alabama.

Researchers identified three classes of diets: sweets and dairy, characterized by lots of baked goods, coffee and tea, dairy-based desserts, and very little poultry; health conscious, which includes good grains, fish, nuts, and not much fried or processed food or soft drinks; and the Western pattern, defined by alcohol, fried food, sodas, eggs, breads, fats, and not much fruit or protein. With age 75 as a starting point, they found that the class of diet didn’t correlate with any particular pattern of health outcome. Except for a higher risk of hypertension for the sweets and dairy segment, there was no relationship between diet and health when it came to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or even death.

This is not to say that clean living doesn’t pay a dividend.
The course of your health is pretty well set by age 75. Seniors who had lived on prudent diets all their lives were likely to have entered the study in better health, and those who ate recklessly for decades entered with far more complications. Nobody began the study with a clean slate. What the results indicate is that the choices you make from that point on aren’t going to make much of a difference. You can watch your fats and salt and sugar for the rest of your days, or you can say Screw it, and eat donuts. Your future health and longevity is going to be what it’s going to be no matter what you choose to eat.

The results of the study have been published in The Journal of Nutrition Health and Aging.
You should forward it to your grandma.



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This is Why FroYo is Trouncing Ice Cream


image via LiveStrong

image via LiveStrong


Have you seen the new breed of frozen yogurt shop?
Of course you have; they’re like retail kudzu, sprouting everywhere with their happy-hued decor, self-serve flavor lineups, and myriad toppings. We started this summer with around 6,000 frozen yogurt shops, a big jump from the 3,624 at the end of 2010.

The frozen dessert shop segment as a whole has been holding steady at $6 billion per year, which means that virtually all of the froyo growth represents a cone for cone, cup for cup swap of ice cream for yogurt. Ice cream sales are at their lowest point in decades, and chains like Cold Stone, Baskin-Robbins, and Friendly’s have been shuttering stores by the hundreds.

The name says it all.
The 1980’s saw the first wave of frozen yogurt shops with the popular franchises I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt! and TCBY (originally the acronym stood for This Can’t be Yogurt until a lawsuit from I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt! forced a name change to The Country’s Best Yogurt). Like selling margarine as an I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter stand-in, frozen yogurt was seen as ice cream’s poor relation, and the more closely it mimicked the real thing, the better. After a decade of froyo madness, the market collapsed in the ’90s with the rise of coffeehouses and competition from niche frozen treat alternatives like gelato, Italian ice, and smoothies.

This time around, it’s all about the yogurt.
The new wave of frozen yogurt is defiantly, unapologetically not ice cream. It’s tart and comes in a slew of trendy and nontraditional flavors like green tea, guava, and salted caramel swirl. Plus it’s kinda, sorta, maybe healthy.

In its basic form frozen yogurt is a healthier choice than ice cream.
It contains less fat and sugar than ice cream. Frozen Greek-style yogurt has an especially dense concentration of healthy protein, and the tart flavors can slow down the release of sugar in the body, which stabilizes appetite and energy levels. Frozen yogurt also contains the strains of beneficial bacteria known as probiotics; the National Yogurt Association demands it of any product labeled as yogurt. You’d be fine if you just stopped there, but that’s not going to happen.

The ironic indulgence of the yogurt shop
Neuroscientists study something called ‘vicarious goal fulfillment.’ It happens when a person feels that a goal has been met even if they’ve only taken even a teeny, tiny step towards it: you feel healthier just joining a gym, even before you’ve ever worked out there; and smarter for subscribing to the New Yorker, even when the issues pile up unread. And in the froyo world, you can feel virtuous about your diet simply because you chose frozen yogurt over ice cream.

There you are celebrating your dietary restraint in a self-serve frozen yogurt shop. You pat yourself on the back with one hand while the other fills the oversized yogurt cup and ladles on honey toasted almonds and- what the hell, it’s only yogurt– Oreo crumbles. And here’s the ironic part—the more self-disciplined an individual is, the more powerful the what-the-hell effect. So says the University of Chicago’s Journal of Consumer Research in the study Vicarious Goal Fulfillment: When the Mere Presence of a Healthy Option Leads to an Ironically Indulgent Decision. Maybe this is news to you, but you can bet it’s not to the frozen yogurt industry. They know that the health food halo that sits atop yogurt brings customers in the door, but it’s the guiltless indulgence of the toppings bar that satisfies them.

Ice cream is struggling to regain its cool factor.
Frozen yogurt shops are successfully selling the health angle, the buzz of their hip decor, and the hands-on foodie vibe of customization. They make traditional ice cream parlors and scoop shops feel downright stodgy. Ice cream isn’t going anywhere; it will always be the luxuriant nosh of choice. But if it wants a marketing edge over frozen yogurt, it needs to enrich its offerings and update the customer experience.

Miscellany from the froyo world:

Naming Force will pay you $100 to name their client’s frozen yogurt shop. 
Don’t they all just pick a fruit, pick a color, and add  a ‘Yo!’?

The yogurt shop aesthetic has been described as ‘cool,’ ‘sugary,’ and ‘Tokyo preschool lounge.’ Mindful Design Consulting has assembled a best of gallery of shop interiors.

I wouldn’t say it was bound to happen, but it has: Cups is touted as the Hooters of froyo.


Posted in food business, health + diet, snack foods, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fixing the 4 Food Groups of the Corner Store


image via The Candy Trail

image via The Candy Trail


Candy, ice cream, chips, and soda.
That’s the stock in trade of the corner store. When kids drop in on the way home from school clutching dollar bills from their allowance, that’s what they buy. And in Philadelphia, the poorest and most obese of the big cities, they were buying way too much. A study published in the journal Pediatrics reported that more than 53% of  the city’s public school students were shopping at corner stores once every school day, and 29% were stopping by both before and after school, five days a week. On average they were spending just over a dollar at each visit, and on average they were buying sugary, fatty treats that added up to 356 calories.

There’s so much wrong with this picture—from the dearth of healthy options in urban food deserts and the poor nutritional choices the kids were making, to the out-of-whack food system that creates so many empty calories so cheaply. It threatened to undermine the schools’ efforts where they had eliminated junk food from campus vending machines and rid cafeterias of hard working deep fat fryers.

The corner store is not the enemy.
Bodegas and convenience markets are part of the urban landscape. They serve an important role in poorer communities where options are limited, and Philadelphia has fewer supermarkets per capita than almost every other large American city. The corner stores are free market enterprises with little square footage and prime display space that’s often contractually reserved for favored vendors. They don’t have room to stock what doesn’t sell, and what does sell is often cheap and unhealthy.

It’s a two-pronged approach.
Store owners need to be encouraged to stock fresh, healthful foods, and kids need to be encouraged to choose them. The Food Trust, a Philadelphia-based organization that works to improve access to affordable, healthy food, has led the charge with its local Healthy Corner Store Initiative and the creation of the national Healthy Corner Stores Network.

Creating a sustainable model on the supply side.
In 2009 The Food Trust began with fewer than a dozen participating Philadelphia store owners. They provided equipment like inexpensive refrigerated barrels that allowed the stores to expand their inventory of perishable foods, and linked the owners with local farmers and fresh food suppliers. They also offered training, merchandising, and technical support to store employers that showed how they could boost food safety and reduce spoilage, and ultimately the store owners found that they could improve overall store operations while profitably selling healthier products.

Appetites don’t naturally follow access.
To create sustainable demand for healthy foods, the diet of an entire household has to be transformed. The Food Trust reaches out to both children and their parents with education and message marketing. They engage families through community-based programs on nutrition and healthy purchasing, and are a strong presence in the public schools where 80% of the city’s students have participated in nutrition and wellness programs. Of equal importance is a youth leadership program that targets the social component of behaviors and the troubled relationship that many kids have with food.

In just four years, Philadelphia’s Healthy Corner Store Initiative has grown to involve 680 store owners. All have agreed to stock at least four healthy new products, with most offering dozens more. Pricing is kept competitive and many products bear labels and logos that highlight the store’s healthy options.

Philadelphia is bucking a childhood obesity trend.
While obesity rates remain unchanged all around the country, recent studies show an average decline in obesity rates for Philadelphia’s schoolchildren of five percent, and an even more significant seven percent drop among African American boys and Latina girls, two groups at especially high risk for diabetes. The success is shared by numerous constituents of the city’s broad-based assault on obesity, but breaking the old corner store habit, with its daily dose of junk food, is no small part of it.


Posted in community, health + diet, kids | 1 Comment

Why Would You Want a Hot Drink on a Hot Day?



It’s hot out there. How about a nice cold drink?
You hear the clink of ice cubes in a tall glass, see the beads of sweat condensing on the outside, and you just know you’re in for some serious refreshment.

So why does the rest of the world drink hot tea in hot weather?
Can a couple of billion subcontinental residents be wrong?

It’s counterintuitive, but there is basic brain science behind it. A hot drink tells the nerve receptors in your mouth that things are getting hot in there and it turns on a cooling response—basically it makes you sweat. It works with spicy foods too—the receptors in your tongue read ‘hot’ peppers in the same way as they read hot tea, so either way it triggers a message to the brain telling it to cool things off.

The increased rate of perspiration is key.
If you’re not much of a sweater, the heating power of the drink can exceed the cooling power of the sweat you produce. It adds heat to your body without the compensating power of perspiration and you end up just feeling flushed and even hotter. And if you are a big sweater, the moisture has to be able to evaporate from your skin, since the cooling effect comes from the transfer of body heat into the atmosphere via the perspiration. If you’re wearing too much clothing it can hold the sweat in, or if the day is muggy, the humid air won’t pull the moisture off of you.

Hot or iced- which should you choose?
Do you sweat some, but not too much? Do you like to expose a lot of skin in warm weather? Do you live in a dry, desert-like climate? Personally, I still would like a nice iced coffee, but feel free to give a hot one a try. If you are reasonably modest and live within about a two thousand mile radius of Washington D.C. you probably want to stick with iced.


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Life Has Become One Continuous Snack

It’s official: we’re a nation of noshers. 
We kick off the day with breakfast—no skipping that most important meal of the day—but then we pretty much leave our mouths open and graze straight through to dinner. So says the most recent analysis of government data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES).

grazingWe graze.
In the late 1970’s, 40% of Americans said that they didn’t typically eat between-meal snacks. With 3 meals a day for most, the average number of eating occasions was 3.9 per day. Today we’re skipping more meals but snacking so frequently that we have pushed daily eating occasions up to 10. Just 4% of Americans say they don’t regularly snack, with most reporting 3 or more snacks a day.




What lunch break?
Americans are  now more likely to skip lunch than breakfast. 85% reported eating breakfast the previous day, while only 80% reported eating lunch.





We like pizza. A lot.
In the late 1970’s, just 6% of kids and teens and 3% of adults reported eating pizza the previous day. Today those numbers have more than tripled for all of us, with 10% of adults and 20% of 2-19 year olds reporting a pizza snack or meal in the last 24 hours.





We eat pitifully little fruit. 
That’s been consistent. Since the late 1970’s, fruit consumption has held steady at 0.9 portions per day, and that includes fruit juices.



broccoli yuck


More of us are eating our vegetables.
Just not so many of them. While 25% of Americans today report eating fruits or vegetables in the previous 24 hours, the average is just a combined 1.9 servings in a day. In the 1970’s only 12% ate their fruits and veggies, but they typically consumed 2.6 portions.



100 drink choices


Got milk? Not much.In the 1970’s, 64% of the population (children and adults) had  drunk a glass of milk in the previous day. Today the majority of Americans, 54%, don’t regularly drink milk.





You can find the full report at the National Health and Nutrition Examination SurveysNHANES is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and has produced vital and health statistics for the nation for 50 years.






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Not Pushing Caffeine to Kids? Yeah, Sure.

Which of these is being marketed to children?



clockwise from top: Energy Gummi Bears, Nixie Tubes candy powder, Brain Bits watermelon candy, Cracker Jack’d

  caffeinated_nixie_tubes              cracker_jackd_     brain-bits-watermelon-flavored-caffeinated-candy-3-pack_2407_400

According to their manufacturers, none of them.


The Food and Drug Administration announced last week that it’s launching an investigation into the safety of caffeine in food products, particularly its effects on children. Surprisingly, the agency doesn’t have any rules for caffeine in food. It classifies caffeine as a GRAS, an acronym for food additives that are Generally Recognized ASafe.  Any additive with the GRAS designation—and there are more than 4,500 of them—is exempt from safety testing when a manufacturer adds it to a new product. 
Caffeine’s GRAS designation dates back to 1958.

The proliferation of caffeinated foods, not beverages, is something new.
Caffeine has been popping up in the most unlikely of places. You can find it added to breakfast foods like instant oatmeal, frozen waffles, and pancake syrup. It’s being added to snack foods like potato chips, marshmallows, sunflower seeds, beef jerky, Jelly Belly ‘extreme sport’ jelly beans, and most recently a new line of caffeinated Wrigley’s chewing gum.

Caffeine is now consumed at levels that the FDA could have never anticipated when it first classified the additive as a GRAS.
In 1958, there were no energy drinks, sports beverages, or caffeinated ‘smart’ waters. Per capita soda consumption was one-third of today’s level. And now we have caffeine’s appearance in a wide range of new products, including foods that are especially appealing to children and teens.

We keep things loose when it comes to kids and caffeine.
The United States doesn’t have dietary guidelines for caffeine consumption for adults or children. Since we don’t know how much is too much, there’s little effort made to limit it. In theory, caffeine-added products aren’t supposed to be marketed to children, but it’s up to the manufacturers, advertisers, and trade associations to regulate it. Most manufacturers insist that they don’t target kids. Apparently they’re using kid-friendly cartoon mascots and logos to push caffeinated gummy bears and pixy stix to adults.

Where have we heard that one before?


joe camel


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Kids Drinking Coffee. Why Not?

[image via the New Yorker]

Of course kids are drinking coffee.
What else is left?
Soda is out—high fructose corn syrup, you know. Sports drinks are, as the British press put it, just lolly water. Ditto for juice boxes. Certainly not milk with all that lactose-intolerance going around.
Coffee it is.

And what exactly is so wrong with that?

Coffee doesn’t stunt anyone’s growth. That turned out to be a giant fallacy.
And it has health benefits, reducing the risk for Parkinson’s disease, liver cirrhosis, and gallstones. Not exactly pediatric ailments, but it can’t hurt. More intriguing is growing evidence to support years of anecdotal claims from parents that the caffeine in coffee actually calms down children with ADHD.

Gunning their little engines with caffeine.
Coffee does of course rev kids up, and it can leave them with jittery nerves and insomnia. And children are already getting plenty of caffeine from sources like soda, candy, hot chocolate, ice cream, and even cold medicine.

Tolerances and responses to caffeine differ widely among individuals, but it’s pretty safe to assume that the younger they are, the less coffee they probably should drink. The United States hasn’t developed dietary guidelines for kids and caffeine, but Health Canada recommends no more than 45 mg/day for 4 – 6 year olds;  62.5 mg/day at 7 – 9 years; and 85 mg/day for 10 – 12 year olds— compared with moderate adult intake of around 400 mg. (about 3 coffees’ worth).

The real problem isn’t even the coffee.
It’s the fat and calories of the vanilla syrup and the caramel drizzle, the steamed milk and whipped cream. It’s all the frozen, blended mochafrappacappalattaccinos that masquerade as coffee. There are coffee concoctions that hover in burger-and-fries territory in terms of fat and calories. For a child, that can add up to breakfast, lunch, and dinner all in a single to-go cup. And there aren’t many kids who take it black.

Best is to watch the sugar and keep a tally of caffeine from all sources.
And at four bucks a pop for a fancy latté drink, no one should be in a hurry to cultivate their kid’s coffee habit.


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Should Hot Dogs Come With Cigarette-Style Warning Labels?




The medical reform group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine likes to stir up the hot dog debate with its billboards. Every spring it brings its cancer awareness message to billboards outside of baseball stadiums, race tracks, and other hot dog-friendly venues. PCRM is on a crusade to bring cigarette-style warning labels to hot dogs.

A steady diet of hot dogs can send you to an early grave.
According to a recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health, a daily hot dog raises the risk of heart disease by 42 percent and diabetes by 19 percent. Research from the American Institute for Cancer Research found that the risk of colorectal cancer rises by 21 percent, and the Cancer Research Center at the University of Hawaii linked hot dog consumption to a 67 percent increase in the risk for pancreatic cancer. Hot dogs have also been linked with prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, and childhood leukemia. All told, a multi-nation meta-study of 450,000 participants headed by the University of Zurich concluded that the overall risk of mortality increases by 18 percent for each hot dog consumed per day.

The problem with hot dogs.
There’s plenty of salt and saturated fat in hot dogs, but it’s the nitrites that’ll kill you. And all hot dogs have them—regardless of what it says on the package.

The salty preservative that’s added to conventional hot dogs is sodium nitrite. It develops flavor, keeps the meat’s pink color, and inhibits bacterial growth. A hot dog isn’t going to taste like a hot dog without sodium nitrite. So what about the premium and organic hot dogs that are labelled ‘no-added-nitrates’ or ‘naturally cured’? Brands like Applegate and Niman Ranch get around it with a little additive sleight-of-hand plus some arcane labeling loopholes courtesy of the FDA. They pour on the celery juice, which happens to be loaded with naturally occurring nitrate, then they add a naturally-derived bacterial culture that converts the harmless nitrate into harmful nitrite.

Alas, nitrite is nitrite. It makes no difference if it’s added directly or formed later, synthetic or naturally-derived. Take any kind of nitrite, add any kind of meat and heat, and it’s going to form cancer-causing compounds. When the Journal of Food Protection looked at popular hot dog brands, it found that the natural hot dogs had anywhere from one-half to 10 times the amount of nitrite that conventional hot dogs contained.

About those warning labels
The PCRM wants graphic labeling that would make consumers think twice about what they’re eating. Other public health organizations like the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund call hot dogs “unfit for human consumption” and would like to see an outright ban. Even the USDA has been trying to rid the meat industry of nitrites since the 1970’s.

Meanwhile, the American Meat Institute, the meat industry’s oldest and largest trade association, has taken a stand against additional labeling requirements with the publication of its own sodium nitrite Fact Sheet. The AMI dismisses much of the research as “old myths” and the work of vegans and animal rights activists. It refers to sodium nitrite as “an essential public health tool,” and points to a 2005 animal study suggesting therapeutic uses for nitrites in the treatment of heart attacks, sickle cell disease, and leg vascular problems.

Most experts say that the occasional hot dog isn’t going to kill you. The choice is yours. And if there is honest and accurate labeling, you can make an informed choice.


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Chia: So Much More Than Mr. T’s Hair



You can keep your kale, and flax, and goji berries; chia seeds are the hot new superfood.
Yes, chia, as in ch-ch-ch-Chia Pets ™, famous for stuttering infomercials that made a fad out of growing sprouts on ceramic doggies.

Chia seeds are making the leap from the healthy fringe into the mainstream.
Last year you had to look for them in health food stores. Now you’ll find them on the shelves of your local supermarket. They’re being added to frozen waffles, peanut butter, pasta, chips, and juice drinks, and companies like Dole are lacing entire product lines with chia seeds.

Why? Because chia seeds are unbelievably good for you.
Just look at this nutritional profile:

  • A complete protein with more fiber content than bran
  • Twice the omega-3 fatty acids as salmon
  • Five times the amount of calcium in milk
  • Three times the amount of antioxidants in blueberries
  • Three times the amount of iron in spinach
  • Three times the amount of fiber in oatmeal
  • Two times the amount of potassium in a banana

Even among superfoods chia seeds are extraordinary.
Foods like pomegranates, almonds, goji berries, green tea, blueberries, and now chai seeds are considered ‘super’ because they pack a big nutrient punch in a small package. They’re dense sources of disease-fighting nutrients like antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, amino acids, and essential fatty acids, and are often thought to confer health benefits. Chia seeds are all of that plus they’re gluten-free, easy to digest, and rarely cause allergies.

Are you already thinking this is too good to be true? Hang on, there’s more.
Chia seeds can also help you lose weight. The seeds are like little sponges that sop up nine times their weight in liquid. When you eat cereal or muffins that are spiked with chia it does a bit of that inside you, so even your morning coffee can become one with a belly-filling, slow-burning ball of dietary fiber.

And the taste?
It’s fine. Really. The seeds have a tiny bit of crunch and a very subtle nutty flavor if you look hard enough for it. You’re not going to get excited about your morning chia, but it’s a perfectly neutral addition to just about anything.


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Bloomberg’s Soda Ban Would’ve Worked

[image via Diets in Review]

[image via Diets in Review]

Love it or hate it, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s public health initiative to ban the sale of large sugary drinks in New York would have worked. And a ban might be the only thing that will work.

I’m no fan of the so-called Nanny State, when the government uses its power to restrict something that should be a matter of individual choice. And I agree with the judicial ruling that the ban is “arbitrary and capricious” in the way that it singles out specific beverage categories while ignoring other equally sugar-laden products, and because it applies only to restaurants and venues that are regulated by the Board of Health and not to convenience stores and other vendors that are regulated by the state. But I still would like to see a soda ban succeed.

We can all agree that there is an obesity crisis in this country, and it affects every one of us. 
Yes, all of us. You might not struggle to squeeze into your jeans or suffer from asthma, diabetes, or any of the host of medical conditions associated with obesity, but it’s a burden shared by all of us. According to Reuters obesity adds roughly $190 billion to annual national health care costs. A Duke University study calculated the cost to employers of obesity-related absenteeism as $6.4 billion a year, and it’s estimated that the added weight to passenger vehicles releases nearly 20 billion extra gallons of carbon dioxide into the earth’s atmosphere every year. The Department of Defense has even called its overweight recruits a national security issue.

We can also agree that soda is a part of the problem.
In the 1970′s, the calories in the beverages we drank added up to a mere 2-4% of the total calories we consumed. Then we entered the super-size-me-venti-big-gulp era when the 16 oz. ‘large’ soda size of yore became the present-day ‘small.’ Now we can chalk up one-fifth of all calories consumed to the beverages we drink.

We recognize the problem, we know the solution, how tough can this be to fix?
Unfortunately we have a terrible track record when it comes to behavior changes that mitigate health risks, and knowledge and warnings—especially coming from public health campaigns— are among the least effective measures to change behaviors. Three in four smokers with respiratory disease continue to smoke, and a diagnosis of heart disease or diabetes has been shown to have virtually no effect on the consumption of fruit and vegetables.

Soda bans are our seat belts.
They save lives and prevent serious injury; it’s indisputable. Still, for decades the PSA campaign promoting seat belt use was mostly ignored. There were roadside billboards and radio and television spots urging us to use seat belts. They tried every approach from catchy jingles to graphic car wreck images, but what ultimately got us to buckle up were seat belt laws. 49 states (all but live-free-or-die New Hampshire) currently mandate their use and they all back up the law with stiff fines for non-compliance.

Mayor Bloomberg has a proven history with controversial food and health-related regulations.
In 2005 he banned most trans fats from all restaurants within the city limits, successfully cutting the typical restaurant meal’s content of the killer fat by more than 80%. Then in 2008 he forced chain restaurants in the city to post calorie counts resulting in a 6% reduction in calories consumed at these outlets. 

Bloomberg’s current initiative is more of a cap than an outright ban. It aims to limit the size of sugary drinks to no more than 16-ounces at movie theaters, restaurants, food carts, and sports arenas. The difference drinking a single 16-ounce drink rather than a 20-ounce one every day saves 14,600 calories a year, which amounts to four pounds of body fat.

It’s an imperfect plan. It’s riddled with inconsistencies—the 50-ounce 7-Eleven Slurpee with four Snickers-bars’ worth of sugar slips through loopholes—and it doesn’t make a dent in the regular after school soda and chips habit of children who swing by their neighborhood bodega on the way home. Detractors warn of the slippery slope of regulation wondering what this could open the door to (chips? bacon?), and the beverage industry claims scapegoating.

Of course soda isn’t solely responsible for the obesity epidemic.
Obesity results from a complex matrix of diet, environment, genetics, and a myriad of other factors. But sugared beverages are the single largest source of calories in our diet. If we’re going to tackle the obesity problem, soda is a pretty good place to start.

Soda’s impact on our bodies goes beyond tooth decay from the sugar and the elevated risk of diabetes, asthma, and heart disease associated with obesity. See all the risks in Gigabiting’s Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Drink Soda



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Cats and Pork, Latex and Pickles: Cross Triggers for Food Allergies



Hay fever sufferers take note.
You might want to skip the swiss chard and sunflower seeds. You should also avoid munching on celery sticks in the shade of a birch tree.
Do you react to latex? Then skip the dill pickles.
Steer clear of tropical fruit if dust mites make you sneeze, and yes, pork and cat dander can be problematic.

Cross-allergies are on the rise.
The medical community calls it Oral Allergy Syndrome, and like the recent rise of food allergies, it’s becoming more common. About a third of seasonal allergy sufferers will cross-react to certain foods, and that number is closer to two-thirds if birch or alder pollen are your triggers.

Here’s how it works:
The same chemicals that cause hay fever and other airborne allergies can also be found in some foods. There’s a whole grocery list of reactive foods, but the culprit is usually a raw fruit or vegetable that contains the same protein as the airborne allergen. Eat the wrong food, and it sends the immune system into overdrive and triggers an allergic reaction. Instead of the sneezing and itchy eyes you get when you inhale the allergen, you’ll end up with a tingly mouth, hives, difficulty swallowing, or even anaphylaxis—all food allergy symptoms.

These are the most commonly occurring cross-allergies and their offending foods:

  • Dust/Dust Mites: mangos, shellfish, plums, melons, tomato, avocado, pawpaw, pineapple, peaches, and kiwis.
  • Latex: almonds, apples, bananas, kiwis, avocado, dill, oregano, ginger, and sage.
  • Birch/Alder Tree Pollen: celery, apples, apricots, cherries and other stone fruits, parsnips, buckwheat, caraway seeds, and coriander.
  • Hayfever (Ragweed/Grasses): cantaloupe, watermelon, honeydew, bananas, sunflower seeds, zucchini, cucumber, and chamomile tea.
  • Cat Dander: pork.

Some foods contain more of the troublesome proteins than others—peaches more than plums, apples more than pears. And there can be differences between varieties—Gala and Golden Delicious apples cause more allergic reactions than Braeburns, and Crenshaw melons are benign while cantaloupe and watermelon are powerful triggers.

Not every pollen produces cross-allergies; some trees like maple, oak, and poplar don’t share reaction-causing proteins with foods. Nor does having one of these allergies mean you’ll necessarily cross-react with any of the implicated foods. And, if you do react, you may not be allergic to every food on the list.

You can learn more at FAAN, the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network.


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The Super Bowl of Snacking


On Super Bowl Sunday we’re not so much armchair quarterbacks as snack bowl linebackers. 
For most fans the broadcast is an excuse to eat a full day’s worth of calories one tortilla chip and chicken wing at a time.

Of course you’re no linebacker bulking up for the big game. But if you were— or a cheerleader, or even just a wildly enthusiastic fan—these are the football-related activities that it would take to burn the calories.



We’ll consume 27 billion calories just from potato chips. Forget about the carbs; the fat content alone contributes the calories to create four million new pounds of fat on American bodies. To burn off just a small handful of chips with French onion dip you’d have to ride a bicycle from the New Orleans airport to the Super Dome and back.




Who doesn’t love a good pig in a blanket? It takes about a half hour of tossing around a football to burn off each little pastry-wrapped sausage.



You’re looking at a graph of 52 weeks of chicken wing sales. Note the spike? That would be the week leading up to the last Super Bowl. Paint the faces of eight rabid Ravens fans and you’ll burn the calories contained in a single chicken wing that’s been fried and drenched in Buffalo sauce. Unfortunately there aren’t enough football fans on the planet to make up for the 1.23 billion wings that will be eaten this Super Bowl Sunday.

Once the hors d’oeuvre of choice for Grandma’s bridge club, deviled eggs have become a Sunday staple during football season. Jogging the length of the football field 20 times will burn the calories from two stuffed halves of an egg.


football guac


Guacamole has risen through the Super Bowl snack ranks in short order. From a mere 8 million pounds a decade ago, this year we’ll be mashing 79 million pounds of avocados into dip, helped by having San Francisco in this year’s championship. Figure on 10 minutes of climbing stadium stairs to burn a quarter cup of guacamole.



Pizzerias are always the big winners. Super Bowl Sunday is their busiest day of the year by leaps and bounds. One in seven Americans orders take-out and most of it is pizza. If you played the French horn in a marching band for the duration of the game, the exercise would earn you a couple of slices.

 superbowl glass

The nation’s beer tab will be more than $10 billion for Super Bowl Sunday. That’s 50 million cases, but it’s still only good enough to rank eighth on the list of beer-drinking holidays, mostly due to the season. The warm weather holidays of 4th of July, Labor Day, Memorial Day, and Fathers Day hold down the top spots. If you do your part with a 12 oz. beer each quarter, you’d have to do ‘the wave’ 2,853 times to burn the calories in those four bottles of beer.

Chips, dips, wings, beer… it’s no wonder that 6 percent of Americans will call in sick for work on Monday morning.

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We’re Too Fat For Our Cars


image via Hive Health Media

image via Hive Health Media


It’s known to automakers as Plump My Ride.
A little wordplay from the MTV show Pimp My Ride inspired the industry’s nickname for the super-sized cars it builds to accommodate ever-fatter drivers. It’s not just larger interiors and bigger carseats. Grab handles above the doors have to be reinforced so they won’t pull off, and buttons need to be bigger for pudgy ‘sausage fingers.’ Those electrically-powered adjustable steering columns were developed because drivers were getting trapped behind the wheel, wedged in by their big bellies, and video back-up screens and blind spot detectors had to be added because necks are too thick for drivers to turn around and look.

There are major safety issues for fat drivers.
You might think that carrying extra weight would be an advantage in a crash, with the extra padding providing protection for bones and organs. In fact studies show that drivers with moderate obesity are at a 21% greater risk and drivers with morbid obesity are at a 56% greater risk of being killed in a car accident. Most car safety features are designed to protect an average-sized driver of 163 pounds. An overweight driver tends to be propelled further forward in a collision because seat belts don’t tighten properly against so much soft tissue and airbags don’t deploy in the right location.

Driving while obese has been compared with driving while intoxicated.
Overweight drivers are more likely to have underlying health problems that put them at higher risk for car accidents. A recent study found that 800,000 car accidents a year on American roads are caused by drivers with obesity-related sleep apnea. The reaction times of these drivers is even worse than that of drivers who are over the legal limit for alcohol.

All the extra weight has an environmental impact as well.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, for every additional 100 pounds a car carries its fuel economy drops by as much as 2 percent. Auto makers are busy cutting vehicle weight, using less steel and lighter plastic, as they monitor every ounce in a race toward the 2025 federal target of 54.5 miles per gallon. But it’s a seesaw battle with Americans gaining pounds as fast as the manufacturers are shedding them. It’s estimated that it takes an extra billion gallons of gasoline every year to haul around new weight gain.

The secret of the New York minute.
A surprising story was recently told by the New York City Department of Health: New Yorkers are living longer than most people in the country, and their life expectancy continues to increase at a rate faster than almost anywhere else. Since 1990, the average American has added about two and a half years to his life, while New Yorkers have added a stunning 6.2 years. New Yorkers also weigh less than their demographically identical suburban counterparts—10 pounds less among 40-year-old white men—with correspondingly lower rates of heart disease and cancer.

Health experts call it the ‘urban health advantage,’ and single out walking as a primary factor. New Yorkers walk more than the rest of us. The city demands it with its urban frenzy and streets that are hostile to cars but welcoming to pedestrians. And New Yorkers walk fast, jogging up and down subway station staircases and plowing through slow-moving tourists. New Yorkers are the nation’s fastest walkers, and rank eighth among the world’s quickest steppers.

Lose the car, lose the weight.
The message is clear. Do it for your health, your safety, and for the environment.

One car, 15 cup holders. Read about the Big Gulp lifestyle in Gigabiting’s How Big is Your Cupholder?


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