Team McCallum

R&D for Lifetime of Life

Eating well?

Two stories published today illustrate the difference between how well people think they eat and how well they really eat.

In Ecuador, Dr Simin Nikbin Meydani examined the diet and health of 350 men and women aged 65+ living in 3 poor neighbourhoods around the capital, Quito. Despite being poor, these people seemed to be eating well, with 33% of the men overweight and 55% of the women overweight.

In reality, their diet was heavily based on white rice, potatoes, sugar and white bread. Foods to provide micronutrients, such as chicken, legumes, fruit and vegetables, were sparse.

Using standard definitions, the team found that 19% of the men and 81% of the women had metabolic syndrome. High levels of C-reactive protein, a marker associated with cardiovascular disease risk, were found in 50% of the population. By analysing diet components, the team was able to tie risk of metabolic syndrome to under-consumption of vitamin C and vitamin E in this population.

The research was published in Public Health Nutrition.

Meanwhile, in the US, a survey of over 1,200 people found that many thought they were eating better than they really were.

53% thought their diet was somewhat healthy, 32% thought very healthy and 6% thought extremely healthy.

However, only 30% ate their 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, only half watched how many sweets they ate and 43% drank at least one can of sugar-sweetened beverage each day.

Of those who said they were at a healthy weight, 30% were clinically in the overweight range, and 35% were obese.

While 81% claimed to be active, the average amount of time spent moderately active was one hour, with a large chunk clocking up 5 hours per day sitting down.

The study was conducted by Consumer Reports.


January 4, 2011 Posted by | Activity, CVD - cardiovascular disease, Diet, Fruit, Gender, Health, Metabolic syndrome, Obesity, Soft drinks, Success, Sugar, United States, Vegetables, Vitamin C - ascorbic acid, Vitamin E, Weight management | Leave a comment

Alcobesity increases in US.

Dr Richard A  Grucza, and colleagues at the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, found that ‘alcobesity’ is on the rise in the US.

Before this research, it was known that where alcohol abuse runs in families, due to genes, there is also an increased risk of other behaviour that stimulates the same reward centres in the brain, so the risk of substance abuse is also higher.

Dr Grucza compared two national US studies, one in 1991-1992 and the other in 2001-2002, each of which involved just under 40,000 adults.

In the 1992 study, a link between alcohol abuse running in the family and obesity running in the family was weak, at just 6% higher risk and not reaching statistical significance.

But by 2002, this had climbed to 26% for men and was statistically significant. While in women the additional risk was a whopping 48% higher.

The team ruled out other possible explanations, such as stopping smoking in this period, leaving them trying to explain the following. If there is a cross-over genetic effect, where when alcoholism runs in families people are also more at risk of obesity, how can this be explained when genetics have not altered in so short a time?

The idea that excess alcohol consumption, which means excess calories, might be making people fat was ruled out. Alcoholics tend to be thin as they get a large percentage of their calories from alcohol rather than food. And the subjects tended to be either obese, or alcoholic, rather than both.

So genetics gives some people a higher risk of alcoholism (or of substance abuse) while for others the risk is food ‘abuse’.

The researchers speculated that the change from the 90s to the naughties is in the make-up of food, with particular emphasis on fat, sugar and salt, that now  makes food hyper-palatable.

And that those people genetically at risk of reward centres that dance to the tune of alcohol or other drugs, may find their reward centres fire up on hyper-palatable food. The particular preference leads to an addiction to either alcohol, (or drugs), or to obesity, so explaining the rise of  ‘alcobesity’ in the US.

January 2, 2011 Posted by | Alcohol, Brain, Gender, Genetics, Health, Obesity, Success, Sugar, Weight management | Leave a comment

Comfort food or sex v stress.

Scientists in the US have been investigating how comfort eating or sex reduces the effects of stress by looking at the brains of rats.

Dr Yvonne M Ulrich-Lai gave some rats access to sweetened water for 2 weeks while controls did not get this ‘comfort’ food. Then the rats were stressed to determine the response pattern within the brain. Rats which got the sweetened water showed less stress response (e.g. heart rate) than the controls. And they explored more in a new environment and interacted more when they met unknown rats.

First, there were technical advances in knowledge, when a part of the brain called the basolateral amygdala was found to be key in the process. If this part was missing, the sugar did not cut the stress response.

More interestingly, the stress reduction of the sugary water was long lasting. Even a week after it was stopped, the stress reduction effects were still working. This finding explains why cutting out comfort eating is so difficult. It’s brain-training, remodelling the system to cut stress.

A further key finding was that saccharin also cut stress, although with less effect than sugar. And sweetener dumped directly into the rats’ stomachs did not cut stress, which means actually tasting the sweetener is important. So it’s not simply about calories.

Finally, rats gives access to sexually-receptive partners showed the same amount of reduction of stress as those on the sugar-sweetened water.

So sweet foods cut stress on a par with sex, by remodelling the brain in a manner that is long lasting.

Next time you enjoy a can of sugar sweetened drink, think of it not as enjoyment, but as stress reduction. Or as a long-lasting rewiring of your brain.

November 14, 2010 Posted by | Brain, Diet, Health, Soft drinks, Stress, Success, Sugar | 2 Comments

Sugared drinks v diabetes.

Dr Frank B Hu and 5 colleagues in N America have found that sugar-sweetened drinks, even at a low level, are linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. This effect is independent of any impact the sweetened drinks have on weight or on total calorie consumption. Further, it kicks in at levels as low as 1 to 2 standard size drinks per day.

The research team combed medical literature for good quality studies, in order to combine them. They found 8 studies of sugar-sweetened drinks and type 2 diabetes, covering 311,000 people, and 3 studies for metabolic syndrome, covering nearly 20,000 people.

From these they calculated that 1 to 2 sweet drinks per day, compared to less than 1 per month, raised the risk of type 2 diabetes by 26% and metabolic syndrome by 20%. One drink was a standard 12 oz size in the US, which is slightly larger than the 330 ml size in Europe. They found the result was dose-dependent, so more soft drinks increased both risks.

They concluded “In addition to weight gain, higher consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with development of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.” 

The full research paper shows that the sweetening component has quite different effects depending on whether it is fructose, glucose or an artificial sweetener. However, in the form of an added sweetener at this magnitude all have undesirable health effects.

The paper also references other research to show that the preferred US sweetener, HFCS (high fructose corn syrup, a 55/45 mix of fructose and glucose) and the standard European sweetener (sucrose, a 50/50 mix of fructose to glucose) both increase the risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes through not only weight gain but through other paths. These extra paths include increased dietary glycemic load leading to insulin resistance, beta-cell disruption and inflammation. Further problems are hypertension and an increase in visceral fat (bad fat).

These findings dovetail neatly with recent research that there are good carbs and bad carbs.That report is here.

As soft drinks increase visceral fat, and both increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, this may explain why US adults have larger waist sizes than their UK equivalents, and also twice the rate of diabetes. That report is here.

October 28, 2010 Posted by | Diabetes, Diet, Frank B Hu, Glycemic index, Health, HFCS - high-fructose corn syrup, Metabolic syndrome, Obesity, Soft drinks, Success, Sugar, UK, United States, Waist circumference, Weight management | Leave a comment

Fructose intolerance?

At a meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology, two doctors have reported that in children with frequent unexplained abdominal pain the reason is often fructose intolerance. The solution, a low-fructose diet, had the bonus of cutting excess weight in many cases.

Dr Daniel Lustig and Dr Bisher Abdullah examined 245 children aged 2 to 18 with chronic abdominal pain which could not be explained with known medical conditions. A 1990 study of women with irritable bowel syndrome had implicated fructose intolerance or malabsorption, so the doctors carried out a simple test. The patients were given a dose of fructose and their breath was tested for hydrogen.

Just over half (54%) tested positive, so they were referred to a dietician. Of those referred, two thirds had complete resolution of symptoms, with a strong link between sticking to the low-fructose diet and reduction of problems.

Many of the kids were overweight or obese when first seen by the doctors, and a side advantage was significant weight loss on the low-fructose diet.

Fructose appears naturally in fruit, some vegetables and honey. It is also present in sugar and HFCS (high fructose corn syrup), which are common in packaged food.

According to Dr Lustig “The challenge is finding those foods with low fructose and still maintain a healthy nutritional balance that patients will adhere to, especially teenagers”.

While Dr Abdullah noted “The principal culprit in many cases was fructose-sweetened soft drinks. The human body was not designed to handle that much fructose”.

There was no information on whether cutting out fructose-sweetened drinks alone made an improvement.

October 19, 2010 Posted by | Child Health, Diet, Health, HFCS - high-fructose corn syrup, IBD, Obesity, Soft drinks, Success, Sugar, Weight management | Leave a comment

Paleolithic v diabetes diet.

In 2009, Dr Tommy Jönsson ran a test of a Paleolithic (old stone age) diet versus a recommended Diabetes diet in patients with type 2 diabetes.

The patients spent 3 months on one diet type, then switched to the other for 3 months.

A Paleolithic diet is a modern dietary regimen based on foods presumably eaten regularly during the Paleolithic, which includes lean meat, fish, shellfish, fruits, vegetables, roots, eggs and nuts, but not grains, dairy products, salt or refined fats and sugar, which became staple foods long after the appearance of fully modern humans.

The Diabetes diet stated that it should aim at evenly distributed meals with increased intake of vegetables, root vegetables, dietary fiber, whole-grain bread and other whole-grain cereal products, fruits and berries, and decreased intake of total fat with more unsaturated fat. The majority of dietary energy should come from carbohydrates from foods naturally rich in carbohydrate and dietary fiber. Salt intake was recommended to be kept below 6g per day.

The Paleolithic diet produced better outcomes on 7 key measures (HbA1c, tricylglycerol, diastolic blood pressure, weight, BMI, waist circumference, ‘good’ cholesterol).

Glucose improvements were better for the Paleolithic diet, but were not clinically significant.

The Paleolithic diet was mainly lower in cereals and dairy products, potatoes, beans and bakery products, and higher in fruits, vegetables, meat and eggs, as compared to the Diabetes diet.

No advice was given to restrict intake. However, lower reported intake during the Paleolothic diet agrees with the notion that such a diet is satiating and facilitates a reduced caloric intake.

August 30, 2010 Posted by | Atkins, Diabetes, Diet, Fibre, Fish, Health, High blood pressure, Paleolithic, Success, Sugar, Tommy Jönsson, Whole grain | 1 Comment

Soft drinks v diet.

The Sugar Bureau has managed to get a press release on research by Prof Jeya Henry and Viren Ranawana widely circulated, along with the following quote from Prof Henry “It has been suggested that sugars provided in liquid form encourage ‘passive over-consumption’ of energy from food, but this study shows that the body does compensate in the short term.” Quite a neat trick since that’s not what was found.

47 young adults were given a standard breakfast, followed 3 hours later by a drink, then 1 hour later by a free choice lunch.

The control drink was a calorie-free fruit drink. The other 3 all had 150 calories – semi-skimmed milk, orange juice or sugar-sweetened fruit juice (juice sweetened with table sugar).

Men adjusted so that total calories (drink plus lunch) was the same no matter which drink they had.

Women reacted differently.

According to The Sugar Bureau press release “women demonstrated a trend for greater energy intake following the three caloric drinks compared to the control.”

According to the research abstract in this month’s Appetite, females showed an increased total energy intake following the sugar-sweetened fruit juice compared to the control.

August 27, 2010 Posted by | Diet, Gender, Health, Jeya Henry, Soft drinks, Success, Sugar, Viren Ranawana, Weight management | Leave a comment

Cancer, fructose, HFCS.

Dr Anthony Heaney has found that pancreatic cancer gets fuel from both fructose and glucose, in two quite different pathways. This suggests that blocking one of the pathways might cut the risk of cancer.

The results came from experiments with human cancer cells in Petri dishes, but should apply in real life.

It is likely that the twin pathway finding applies to other cancers as well.

That’s the science. Then there is the press release from the University of California Los Angeles.

The source of fructose in the Western diet is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a corn-based sweetener that has been on the market since about 1970. HFCS accounts for more than 40% of the caloric sweeteners added to foods and beverages, and it is the sole sweetener used in American soft drinks.

Between 1970 and 1990, the consumption of HFCS in the US has increased over 1,000%, according to an article in the April 2004 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

“I think this paper has a lot of public health implications,” Heaney said. “Hopefully, at the federal level there will be some effort to step back on the amount of HFCS in our diets.”

HFCS is typically 55% fructose and 45% glucose. Sucrose – table sugar – is broken down by the stomach to its components – 50% fructose and 50% glucose. Fructose is the natural sweetener in honey and fruit.

Europe consumes almost no HFCS, and sweetened soft drinks are made with sucrose. Europe is far from obesity-free or cancer-free.

A recent study of UK consumption over the last 20 years found total sugar consumption per person was unchanged. Table sugar and sugar from cakes and biscuits had declined, while sugar in soft drinks had made up for this.

If you want to cut your risk of obesity or cancer, cut the empty calories of sweetened soft drinks, whether they are HFCS (US) or sucrose (Europe).

August 4, 2010 Posted by | Anthony Heaney, Cancer, Diet, HFCS - high-fructose corn syrup, News, Obesity, Soft drinks, Success, Sugar | 1 Comment

Sugar and exercise.

Independent nutritionist Sigrid Gibson analysed the diets of schoolchildren in the UK, comparing national surveys in 1983 and 1997. (Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics).

The increase in sugar intake was marginal – 122g/day to 127g/day, while the total daily energy intake actually dropped by 3% over the period.

However, body mass index increased by around 1 unit, and average weight increased by 2-3 kg (around 5-6lb).

The results suggest that in the UK, the increase in schoolchidlren’s weight isn’t due to an increase in sugar, or to diet in general, which leaves a reduction in exercise as the likely cause.

The pattern also changed. “Sugar sources showed a marked shift away from table sugar with smaller falls in milk, biscuits and cakes, counterbalanced by a significant increase in sugar from soft drinks and, to a lesser extent, fruit juice and breakfast cereals.”

May 27, 2010 Posted by | BMI - body mass index, Child Health, Diet, Exercise, Obesity, Sigrid Gibson, Soft drinks, Success, Sugar, Weight management | Leave a comment

Sugar raises blood pressure.

Prof Liwei Chen studied the blood pressure of 810 adults, with mild to moderately elevated blood pressure, over a period of 18 months. After stripping out other factors, she found that cutting sugar-sweetened drinks lowered blood pressure.

One drink per day equated to 1.8mm systolic and 1.1mm diastolic. Part of this effect was due to weight loss, but when that was factored out, the results remained significant. This level represents a 5% change in risk of death by stroke and a 3% change in risk of death by heart attack.

One drink is 12oz US, pretty close to a 330ml can size in the UK.

According to Chen – “We found no association for diet beverage consumption or caffeine intake and blood pressure, suggesting that sugar may actually be the nutrient that is associated with blood pressure and not caffeine which many people would suspect.”

Sugar-sweetened drinks were defined as those sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup including regular soft drinks, fruit drinks, lemonade and fruit punch.

May 25, 2010 Posted by | Coffee, CVD - cardiovascular disease, Diet, Health, HFCS - high-fructose corn syrup, High blood pressure, Liwei Chen, Soft drinks, Stroke, Success, Sugar | Leave a comment