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Old 01-04-2008, 09:26 PM
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Default No Gimmicks: Eat Less and Exercise More

Publishers assume, correctly, that the shock of the scale after nearly six weeks of overindulging on food and drink will prompt the purchase of one or more books on dieting by people who are desperate to return to their pre-Thanksgiving shape.
And really, it doesn’t matter whether you choose a diet based on your genotype or the phases of the moon, or whether you cut down on sugars and starches or fats. If you consume fewer calories than you need to maintain your current weight, you will lose.
My advice here is to save your money, toss out (or donate to a soup kitchen) the leftover high-calorie holiday fare, gradually reduce your portion sizes and return to your exercise routine (or adopt one if you spent too much of ’07 on your sofa).
Slowly but surely the pounds will come off. And as Aesop said, slow and steady does indeed win the race. Gradual weight loss, achieved on an eating-and-exercise regimen that you can sustain indefinitely, is most likely to be permanent weight loss.
If you’ve been reading this column for years, no doubt you already know that. But I believe it bears repeating at least once a year, not because I want to further depress the booksellers’ market, but because I’d rather you spend your hard-earned money on foods that can really help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight and good health.
The basics of good nutrition have not changed.
Meals replete with vegetables, fruits and whole grains and a small serving of a protein-rich food remain the gold standard of a wholesome diet. Still, at both ends of the age spectrum as well as in between, recent months have held some new findings — and some surprises — that are worth noting.
Perhaps most distressing to a chocoholic like me was a report in the Nov. 20 issue of the journal Circulation that while dark chocolate can indeed improve coronary circulation and decrease the risk of heart-damaging clots, most dark chocolate on the market is all but stripped of the bitter-tasting flavanols that convey this health benefit.
The color, in other words, tells you nothing. Now it’s up to manufacturers to label the flavanol content — not just the percentage of cocoa, which may have no flavanol at all.
Start Babies Off Right
By now every pregnant woman and new mother probably knows that breast is best for baby for the first six months of life. Unfortunately, as was noted at a recent March of Dimes presentation to the news media, many working women find it impossible to breast-feed exclusively when their paid maternity leave (if indeed they have a paid maternity leave) is only weeks long and they cannot afford, monetarily or professionally, to take unpaid leave.
And as one of my former colleagues found, pumping breast milk in the ladies’ room, then searching for a refrigerator in which to store it, left so much to be desired that she quit her job. She and her husband sold their Manhattan apartment so they could afford to have her stay home with the baby.
New mothers with jobs they cannot leave should know that any amount of breast-feeding (and feeding of pumped breast milk) is better than none at all, but also that millions of infants have grown up just fine on formula alone when they could not be nursed by their mothers.
To get babies to eat fruits and vegetables, a study published in the December issue of Pediatrics found that what breast-feeding mothers regularly eat influences their babies’ initial acceptance of foods like peaches and green beans.
Nonetheless, repeated exposure to green beans, which initially provoked a grimace, increased the babies’ consumption of this vegetable whether they were breast-fed or formula-fed. The researchers, from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, suggest that mothers ignore their babies’ facial expressions and keep offering foods that are good for them.
Focus on Brain Food
As the population ages and the prevalence of dementia rises, increased attention has focused on how diet may help keep cognitive decline at bay. A heart-healthy diet that keeps clogged arteries from limiting the brain’s supply of oxygen and nutrients has been linked to a lower risk of dementia.
Likewise, omega-3 fatty acids in fish and fish oil, which counter inflammation, appear to protect the brain as well as the heart and joints. A recent analysis of 17 studies in the journal Pain found that daily supplements of these fatty acids significantly reduced inflammatory joint pain.
But now there may be a new kid on the block: vitamin B12. A 10-year study with 1,648 participants in Oxford, England, found an increased risk of cognitive decline in older adults who had low blood levels of vitamin B12. This vitamin is found only in foods from animals, yet it is common for older people, especially those on limited budgets, to cut back on foods like meats and fish.
Strict vegetarians, who have long been cautioned to take B12 as a supplement to prevent a deficiency, can add brain protection to the list of potential benefits. The rest of us should feel comfortable about eating red meat and poultry as long as it is lean and consumed in reasonable amounts. A serving of cooked meat, fish or poultry is only three to four ounces.
The British researchers noted that high blood levels of homocysteine had previously been linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and that B12 is one of the vitamins, along with folate and B6, that lower homocysteine levels. However, the researchers found no benefit to cognitive function from folate.
Foods to Fight Cancer
Here we come full circle. A decade after the American Institute for Cancer Research issued its first major report on diet and cancer, a new magnum opus in concert with the World Cancer Research Fund was published late last year. Based on 7,000 studies of 17 kinds of cancer, it concluded that being overweight now ranks second only to smoking as a preventable cause of cancer. “Convincing evidence” of an increased risk resulting from body fatness was found for cancers of the kidney, endometrium, breast, colon and rectum, pancreas and esophagus.
Other major findings of increased risk included red and processed meats for colon and rectal cancer, and alcoholic drinks for cancers of the mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus, breast, and colon and rectum.
“Convincing evidence” for cancer protection was found for physical activity against colon and rectal cancers, and for breastfeeding against breast cancer. “Probable” protection against various cancers was also found for dietary fiber; nonstarchy vegetables; fruits; foods rich in folates, beta-carotene, vitamin C and selenium; milk, and calcium supplements.
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