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Low-Income Equals High-Energy Diets Equals Low-Nutritional Value

Monday, April 8th, 2013

When you’re in an income rate, it seems like you just can’t win sometimes.  You have to live somewhere cheap, which usually means a bad neighborhood.  You have to cut corners, which usually means paying bills late and accruing late fees.  Also, you have to make the most of your grocery list, which means cheap food that isn’t necessarily good for you.  Unfortunately, health becomes a low priority when people are struggling to make ends meet, and a balanced diet is almost always the first thing that gets cut.

A study by the University of California and the Western Human Nutrition Research Center set out to determine if low-cost diets were affecting the quality of nutrition in low-income households.  It’s not too surprising that their results showed a positive correlation.  Specifically, they found that low-income women who bought low-cost foods had a diet that was energy dense but low on nutrition.  In other words, they bought a lot of carbs, quick prepackaged meals, and not too many fresh vegetables or meats.  The cost was inversely proportional to energy, meaning the more they spent, the lower energy and more nutritional their foods.  Consequently, those trying to save money and not spend much had diets severely lacking in the protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals they needed.

Because of the study, the research center is calling on the US Department of Agriculture to create policies that would make it easier for low-income families to buy nutritious foods.  In the meantime, these families are going to have to get creative with the way they get their next meal.  I’m a big supporter of community and backyard gardens, though I know not everyone has the time to maintain one.  Also, there are a plethora of coupons online these days, so put the kids to work planting veggies and hunting down discounts, and you’ll be a lot healthier in the long run.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

When it Comes to Your Salad, Be Picky

Monday, December 17th, 2012

If I lectured you about the importance of adding more salad to your diet, I’d be wasting my time. We all know that fresh vegetables are extremely important to a healthy diet, and women especially will benefit from the nutrients present in the veggies common to salad. If you’re eating a healthy diet, you probably try to add salad to your daily diet by eating one for lunch or dinner on a regular basis. Though they can taste boring when not prepared well, it’s no secret that they are one of the healthiest meals a woman can consume. However, next time you’re making your salad, consider the difference between Iceberg and Romaine lettuce.

Iceberg lettuce does not totally lack vitamins and nutrients, but it is far less healthy when compared to romaine lettuce. If you’re trying to get as many nutrients as possible from your salad, always choose Romaine, because many of the vitamins in the vegetable are essential to the health of the female body. Romaine lettuce contains high levels of folate, which are especially important prior to conception and during pregnancy. A deficiency can cause fatigue and confusion. Some studies have shown that  women who eat more folate are less likely to get certain neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Romaine also contains much more fiber, carotenoids, and vitamin C than iceberg lettuce.

As a general rule of thumb, always choose vegetables that are dark in their color. Romaine is slightly darker than iceberg lettuce, which is a good indication that it is richer in the essential vitamins and nutrients you need. With that said, romaine is a better choice across the board for all women trying to maintain a healthy diet. If you’re really looking to make a power-packed salad, kale would be an even better choice.  One cup of kale has more calcium than one cup of cottage cheese.  Go Figure!

Hitting the salad bar is definitely a step in the right direction, but you can improve your health even more by choosing the right lettuce to make sure you’re getting as many nutrients as possible. Without these nutrients, your body will degrade more quickly and you’ll feel the effects of old age sooner rather than later. Weight loss and exercise will also be more difficult, so be picky when you’re at the salad bar.

 – Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.


Stressing Out Trumps Family Nutrition

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

Let’s face it.  Whether you’ve been at work all day dealing with stress, or are like many who are stressed because of their daily unsuccessful job hunts, the last thing you want to do is come home and cook a big, balanced meal for your family.  Researchers have found that this is becoming more of a problem as more Americans are either out of work or feeling increased pressure from their jobs.  This means that the stress of parents is now affecting the nutrition and health of their children.

According to a study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine, parents with high stress levels were more likely to serve fast food, unbalanced meals, and less fruits and vegetables each day.  Although their study included people who were unemployed and had more time to cook for their families, stress still played a bigger role.  Whether parents were stressed out because of work or lack of it, their teens received less nutritional meals.  The study compared the meals of 3700 parents with teens in the Midwest, about half of which, were unemployed.  Professor of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston, Dr. Alice Lichtenstein, says that “work stress can affect many areas of daily life, including meal times and quality.”  In most families, it was the mother who did most of the meal prep, despite employment.   Lichtenstein suggests helping each other to lighten the load by sharing kitchen and cooking duties with any able family member.  Perhaps this would help stressed out parents increase the amount of balanced family meals they provide each week from the average of 4 to 7.

When you are raising a family, there is certainly a lot of stress to deal with, and nobody should have to bare that burden alone.  Whether that means being open and honest about the family’s financial situation and day-to-day stresses or simply sharing chores around the home, the purpose of family is to share life, not to be the burden of it.  So if you know your partner could use some support, be sure to give it freely, and if you are the one taking on the majority of the work and stress load, don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Both your and your family’s nutrition and overall health could depend on it.


– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.



Are You Getting Too Much Calcium?

Monday, June 18th, 2012

Growing up, I’m sure your mother, like mine, urged you to drink milk to help keep your bones strong.  While it’s true your bones do need calcium and Vitamin D, it is also possible to get too much.  Nobody is at risk of overdosing on Calcium because of the milk they drink, but women who take calcium supplements to slow osteoporosis, could very well be at risk.

According to the Heidelberg study, a long-term cancer and nutrition study of 24,000 women in Germany, those who took a combination of vitamins, minerals, and calcium tablets were 86 percent more likely to have a heart attack than those who did not take supplements.  This data is puzzling researchers, since previous studies suggested that supplements could reduce the risk of heart problems, obesity, and diabetes.  This new study had more participants and was done over a much longer period of time though, causing some to change their minds about the benefits of supplements.  In fact, the German study showed only a 10% benefit when it came to women with osteoporosis who took the calcium supplements.  They also found that diets high in calcium rich foods did not seem to increase the risk of heart problems, but the calcium tablets did.  They believe this may be due to the way the different forms are absorbed.  When you take supplements, you get a lot of the vitamin or mineral at once, while working it into your diet allows your body to absorb smaller amounts throughout the day.

In other words, mom scores again; you should be eating and drinking your calcium.  And don’t forget about Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps the absorption of calcium from the intestines. Vitamin D comes from the diet and the skin. Vitamin D production by the skin is dependent on exposure to sunlight. So, take a brisk walk in the sun and perhaps, one would not need to overdose on calcium tablets alone.  If you are suffering from osteoporosis and your physician has recommended calcium tablets though, you may want to speak with them about taking several smaller doses throughout the day or lessening your dose while upping your dietary intake.  As usual, maintaining our health the good old fashioned way turns out to be the best strategy.