Monday, March 25, 2013

GM-Free Diet

Q: Should we avoid consuming genetically modified (GM) foods?

A: GM food is a really hot topic right now and unfortunately, one that not too many people are aware of. A GM food has been manipulated through genetic engineering by introducing changes into its DNA structure by either removing certain genes or adding foreign genes in. Reasons for manipulating DNA include faster product growth, resistance to pathogens and production of extra nutrients. Most recently, scientists are formulating a hypo-allergenic apple. They are working to find alternative hypo-allergenic proteins that exist naturally in other plants and swap them in for the irritation-causing proteins in apples.

There are quite a few studies cropping up (no pun intended) showing the negative consequences of consuming GM foods-food allergies, antibiotic resistance and reproductive abnormalities to name a few. For example, even if scientists remove the main proteins in the apple that cause allergic reactions, consumers could have allergic reactions to the replacement protein. In theory, there is no such thing as a “hypo-allergenic” apple. As consumers, we are mostly unaware if we are eating GM food or not. Whole Foods Market is a pioneer in GM labeling, announcing that by 2018, all products in U.S. and Canada stores must be labeled if they contain food that has been genetically modified. Hopefully, this trend catches on.

If you want to avoid having GM foods in your diet, here are some tips on how you can avoid their consumption:

1. Become familiar with the most common products of genetic modification: soybeans, corn and its derivatives, rapeseed/canola oil, cottonseed oil, dairy, cheese, livestock, sugar and baked goods.

2. Buy food labeled 100% organic. Even if something says "organic,” it can still contain up to 30% GM, so be sure the labels say 100% organic.

3. Purchase beef that is 100% grass-fed. Most cattle in the U.S. are grass-fed, but spend the last portion of their lives in feedlots where they may be given GM corn.

4. Seek products that are specifically labeled as non-GM or GMO-free.

5. Shop locally. Most GM food comes from large, industrial farms.

6. Buy whole foods. Avoid any processed or pre-prepared foods.

7. Grow your own food. This way you know exactly what was grown and what went into growing it.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Can Diet Prevent Breakdowns from Breakouts?

How many times has this happened to you: you wake up the morning of picture day, a job interview or a blind date and look into the bathroom mirror to find a bright red shiny third eye in the middle of your forehead? Unfortunately, this third eye does not evoke spiritual enlightenment, but rather feelings of despair and frustration.

Acne is often portrayed as simply a cosmetic problem, but the reality is that it can negatively effect the quality of life for millions of American adults and adolescents. Studies conducted in the early 1900’s hypothesized that a high carbohydrate diet, complete with chocolate and milk sugars, was to blame for an increase in breakouts. However, researchers in the 1960’s refuted the association between diet and acne (doing so with flawed methodological studies), concluding that diet does not influence acne development. Nearly 40 years later, the relationship between diet and acne continues to be determined.  

Current research suggests that diet does influence acne development, specifically a high glycemic index (GI) diet and dairy consumption. (GI refers to the effect of carbohydrate on blood sugar levels.) Eating high GI foods and frequent dairy is linked to increased acne severity through similar pathways. Put simply, ingestion of a high GI food, like chocolate milk, increases the amount of insulin that is circulating in the blood. This hyperinsulinemia stimulates production of a hormone called insulin-like growth factor, which is a well-established factor in the pathogenesis of acne. Therefore, studies suggest that low-GI diets decrease hyperinsulinemia, thus decreasing the incidence of acne. Another hypothesis is that consumption of omega-3 fatty acids, the healthy fats found in fatty fish like salmon, reduce acne by decreasing inflammation and insulin concentrations.

Unfortunately, due to the many gaps in the research, registered dietitians and other health care professionals are unable to fully “prescribe” a diet that is meant to mitigate the effects of acne. A low-GI diet with low-fat dairy and high omega-3 fatty acid consumption is associated with many other health benefits such as better blood sugar and insulin control, weight management  heart disease and cancer prevention and sustained energy. The recommendation therefore, is to eat a balanced diet that has plenty of fiber-filled fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy and healthy fats if not to clear up your complexion, but to support a healthy immune system and control chronic inflammation. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

An Ode to the RD

Today is Registered Dietitian Day, a day to recognize the food and nutrition experts.  A Registered Dietitian (RD) has the training and credentials that are essential for developing a personalized nutrition plan tailored for your unique nutritional needs, lifestyle and tastes. RDs can help you manage or reduce your risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer and hypertension. RDs can help you set goals to achieve results and perform your best whether you’re an elite athlete or a weekend warrior.

Individuals with the RD credential have fulfilled specific requirements, including having earned at least a bachelor's degree (about half of RDs hold advanced degrees), completed a supervised practice program and passed a registration examination, all while maintaining continuing education requirements for recertification. It is important to note that some RDs may call themselves nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are RDs. Some states have licensure laws that define the range of practice for someone calling themselves a "nutritionist," but in other states, anyone can call him- or herself a "nutritionist" regardless of education or training.

To the RDs in my life: thank you for sharing your knowledge and expertise with me and for teaching me what it means to be successful in this profession. Your mentorship over the years is an invaluable asset and I am very grateful.

For more information on what an RD can do for you and to locate an RD in your area, please visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics at

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

No period? That's a Problem

***Males: Proceed with Caution!

When I was in high school and college, I was envious of female runners who stopped getting their periods during cross country or track season. They were lean, fast and fit. No worries about crankiness, cramps or fatigue. I wanted this freedom, but no matter how lean or fit I got, I was like Old Faithful- every month, on the dot. Now that I am older (and hopefully much wiser) I realize that my regular cycle is a positive tribute to my healthy diet and lifestyle.

Amenorrhea is the clinical term for the absence of monthly menstruation. Primary amenorrhea occurs when a girl does not begin menstruating by age 16. Secondary amenorrhea occurs in women of childbearing age who normally have a monthly period, but have stopped menstruating for more than three or four cycles. This can be a cause of concern in which you should see your gynecologist.

Menopause and pregnancy are two natural occurrences that halt menstrual cycles. Abnormal causes of amenorrhea are poor nutrition, excessive exercise, losing too much weight, weight gain, eating disorders and too little body fat. Stress, anxiety, hormone imbalance, the use of contraception, endocrine disorders or reproductive disorders can also cause period cessation. 

Most women with amenorrhea have inadequate fuel to support the menstrual process. It's important to note that this does not mean that a woman is incapable of having children. The reproductive process is one of the first systems, along with digestion, that can stop under famine-like conditions in order to conserve energy. Though the comfort of not having a period is enticing, the long-term side-effects are sobering. A loss of calcium from the bones makes the incidence of stress fractures three times higher and causes early on-set of long-term problems with osteoporosis.

The good news is that with proper nutrition, some causes of amenorrhea can be treated and prevented. The most important consideration is making sure you are consuming adequate calories. A general rule of thumb is to eat 15 calories for every pound of body weight. That means if you weigh 100 pounds, you would need to eat 1500 calories. This does not include the amount of calories burned during exercise. So if you run 5 miles, you would need to add an extra 500 calories and maybe even more if you have an active lifestyle. Consider taking a calcium and vitamin D supplement if you are not eating enough calcium and vitamin D-rich foods to care for loss of bone mineral density. A sufficient intake of protein and healthful fats is extremely important to spare muscles and absorb vitamins. Shoot for 60-90 grams of protein a day and at least 20% of your calories from healthy fats.

Be patient. It may take a while for your body to adjust and "re-fire" its systems. If you are struggling to balance food and exercise or have any concerns about your nutritional needs, consult with a Registered Dietitian for appropriate care. If several months pass and your period has not yet resumed, please see your physician to rule out any hormone or reproductive issues. Remember, you can still be lean, fast and fit while taking optimum care of your body!