Tag Archives: diet

Chemicals and Obesity

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that obesity has been rising, even though Americans are consuming fewer calories.  This seems puzzling to many.  Changes in physical activity, the amount of calories burned, doesn’t appear to explain this discrepancy.  As stated by the co-author of the study, Dr. William Dietz, former CDC director of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, “It’s hard to reconcile what these data show, and what is happening with the prevalence of obesity.”

However, evidence is growing that chemicals in our food, water, and environment may be changing our bodies’ hormonal balances and metabolism.  Such chemicals are called endocrine disruptors.  When linked to hormonal disorders linked to obesity they are called obesogens (literally, “causer of obesity”) — see here for more on the obesogen hypothesis.

A recent scientific review summarizes data from experimental animals and humans which support an association of endocrine disrupting chemicals, such as diethylstilbestrol, bisphenol A, phytoestrogens, phthalates, and organotins, with the development of obesity.  The reviewers state, “The reasons for this sharp increase in overweight/obesity are not well understood but factors such as high fructose diets, genetics/epigenetics, increased maternal age, sleep debt, use of certain pharmaceuticals, and the built environment have all been proposed as playing a role.”  They conclude:

“The data included in this review support the notion that brief exposure early in development to environmental chemicals with estrogenic activity increases body weight gain with age and alters markers predictive of obesity in experimental animals. Furthermore, epidemiologic studies support the findings in experimental animals and show a link between exposure to environmental chemicals (such as estrogenic chemicals, BPA, PCBs, DDE, and persistent organic pollutants and heavy metals) and the development of obesity.Importantly, the use of soy-based infant formula containing the estrogenic component genistein has been positively associated with obesity later in life. Using the DES animal model as an important research tool to study “obesogens”, the mechanisms involved in altered weight homeostasis (direct and/or through endocrine feedback loops, i.e., ghrelin, leptin, etc.) by environmental estrogens can be elucidated. In addition, this animal model may shed light on areas of prevention. Public health risks can no longer be based on the assumption that overweight and obesity are just personal choices involving the quantity and kind of foods we eat combined with inactivity. It is quite possible that complex events, including exposure to environmental chemicals during development, may be contributing to the obesity epidemic.”

For more on how our corporate economy is contributing to our living in a chemical soup which can alter our physiology and metabolism, check out: Obesogens & Canned Tales: Lessons in Corporate Social Responsibility.

Avoid BPA in Your Diet

BPA is a hormone disruptor, of which infants and children are particularly susceptible. BPA is found in canned foods and polycarbonate bottles. Look for the recycling numbers 3 and 7 for its presence. BPA leaching is greatly sped up with heat, so don’t heat food in the microwave in plastic containers or on plastic plates.

The World Health Organization (WHO) just came out with a report calling hormone disruptors a “global threat.”  The co-author of the report, Thomas Zoeller, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, tells us, “Frankly, for BPA, the science is done. Flame retardants, phthalates . . . the science is done . . . We have more than enough information on these chemicals to make the reasonable decision to ban, or at least take steps to limit exposure.”

Powering Up Your Pasta!

Pasta with tomato sauce is a common meal that can be very nutritious. Plus, the nutritional value can be boosted very easily, with just a few tricks.

Tomato sauce is one of the best nutrition buys that is easily available and widely used. Tomatoes have two uncommon characteristics that should earn them a place as a staple in your diet. First, tomatoes are packed with a rare and powerful antioxidant (lycopene) that helps prevent heart disease, cancer, and likely a whole host of other health problems. Second, tomatoes have a savory taste, making them taste boosters. Many people are aware that people have four basic tastes of sweet, salty, bitter and sour — but savory is a fifth taste! Unfortunately, savory taste compounds are relatively uncommon in the average diet. Tomatoes and mushrooms are two common foods which add savory taste (you can probably guess where that is going!).

When choosing a jar or can of tomato sauce, check the nutrition label for sugar and sodium. Choose a variety with a lower sugar and sodium content. If you find a variety that you like on sale, stock up on it, it will store very well. If you make your own sauce from tomato paste or fresh tomatoes you can leave the sugar out and control the salt content.

Next, power up your tomato sauce! This is easy to do with oregano, garlic, onion, mushroom, and balsamic vinegar. Dried oregano has the highest antioxidant content per serving of any commonly used spice. Just add a couple of tablespoons! Onions and garlic both come from a plant family offering powerful health benefits: anti-heart disease, anti-cancer, and anti-microbial. The easiest boost is to add chopped garlic (I keep a jar in the refrigerator at all times). If you have the time, sauté a chopped onion or two, along with chopped garlic. Sautéing in olive oil is both a tasty and nutritious choice. If you are going to use mushrooms, go ahead and add those as well. If you are using canned mushrooms, you can add the “juice”, so you don’t throw out a bunch of those water-soluble nutrients (and flavor). You can also add other vegetables, such as green peppers, to boost nutrition and flavor.  Adding a dash of balsamic vinegar will help create a rich, meaty flavor and additional nutrition.  I like adding ground red pepper for even more nutritional and taste punch.  Hot pepper is particularly useful if you are using/making lower salt tomato sauce.

To pack the biggest punch, eat a lot of sauce with your pasta, particularly if you are resorting to refined grain pasta. I would strongly recommend using whole wheat pasta. The nutritional value of whole grains versus refined grains is incomparable. It’s somewhat more expensive, but well worth it nutritionally. If you are not used to the taste, give it a try; it’s something your tastes can adapt to over time (if you are not willing to use whole wheat pasta, using whole wheat bread in your diet might offer an easier start).  When boiling pasta, don’t use excessive water, since water soluble vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients leech out (or you can use the leftover water for other cooking).