Category: Nutrition

Is Excessive Salt Restriction Really Necessary?

Salt serves an important function in our food, and in our bodies. As a preservative, it helps to limit the spoilage of food by preventing microbial growth. It is also essential for the proper functioning of the human nervous system.

The American Heart Association currently recommends consuming less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day, considerably less than the 2,300 mg included in the latest rendition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. For the average person, this can be very difficult to achieve, with even ‘healthy’ foods like whole wheat bread containing upwards of 200 mg of sodium per serving, and average consumption in the range of 3,400 mg per day. Although more and more products are being offered in low- and no-salt added formulations, keeping total daily intakes under 1,500 mg basically requires preparing most food from scratch, emphasizing fresh fruits and vegetables that are naturally low in sodium and high in potassium. There is no question about the beneficial qualities of a whole-foods, plant-based diet, but are guidelines pushing for excessive sodium restriction really necessary?

A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported no significant differences in the risk for developing heart disease over 10 years between individuals who consumed 1,500 mg of sodium per day and those who consumed 2,300 mg per day. This adds to the growing body of literature suggesting that moderate salt consumption is appropriate for most people, with salt restriction necessary only for those with specific health conditions, such as kidney disease, that require lower intakes.

We should certainly continue to encourage people to reduce the amount of salt in their diet. However, many find a 1,500 mg sodium diet to be hard to swallow. If you are looking to make healthy changes to your diet, don’t feel like you need to sacrifice taste – you won’t likely stick to the changes for very long. Instead, balance moderate salt intake with more potassium, a prevalent mineral found in fresh fruits and vegetables. Aim for a 2:1 ratio, consuming twice as much potassium as sodium. People can enjoy the benefits of a healthy diet without giving up all of the foods they enjoy. You can have your salt, and eat it too.


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Warning Label: Food May Contain Deoxyribonucleic Acid!

A recent survey revealed that many Americans would support mandatory labels on foods that contain DNA. Researchers at Oklahoma State University conduct a monthly online survey that asks over 1000 Americans about their preferences and opinions on the safety and quality of food. In this month’s survey, one question asked, “Do you support or oppose the following government policies?” and listed policies ranging from bans on certain foods (trans fats, unpasteurized milk, etc.) to mandatory labeling and foods that contained DNA. Surprisingly, four out of five respondents indicated that they supported mandatory labeling of all foods that contain DNA. Roughly the same percentage of people (82%) also supported mandatory labeling of genetically engineered food products, or GMOs.

Given that DNA is one of the most fundamental molecules for life, and that all the food we eat was presumably once alive, should we be surprised that people would feel this is necessary? While there are currently no policies in place to label foods with DNA, policies to label GMOs were recently on ballots in Colorado and Oregon, although they did not pass. Are some of the popular misconceptions about GMOs driven by this widespread lack of scientific misunderstanding? Whether or not the survey results come as a shock, in truth, the average American can function day-to-day without knowing what DNA is. Nevertheless, it underscores the widespread scientific misinformation among the general public, and emphasizes the importance of scientists and medical professionals to provide accessible information for people to make informed decisions regarding food safety and health.

Image courtesy of Walmart Corporate via Flickr.

How Eating School Breakfast Can Help Your Child Succeed

For millions of American families with school-aged children, buzzing alarm clocks are the starting pistols that mark the beginning of another hectic day. Parents scramble to get ready for work while shoving sleepy-eyed kids out the door to meet the school bus. ‘Breakfast’ is anything portable the kids can eat on their way to school – Pop-Tarts, an Ego Waffle, a donut. The sugar perks them up for a while, but eyelids start to droop before the second bell rings.

According to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC,, evidence is mounting that eating a partial breakfast, or skipping the meal altogether, causes students to perform worse on a variety of cognitive tests. This research emphasizes the impact that initiatives like the School Breakfast Program (USDA,, which serves 13.2 million students daily, can have on a child’s ability to get the most out of their education. But there are more than 55 million school-aged children in the United States; wouldn’t they all benefit from such a program?

The answer is ‘Yes’, which is why the policy of Universal School Breakfast is currently under debate in the political arena. Eating breakfast at school improves standardized test scores for all students, regardless of race or socioeconomic status. There are health benefits as well; children who eat breakfast at school consume more fruit and dairy products than their non-breakfast-eating peers.


You can find out more about the benefits of universal school breakfast on FRAC’s website:

Stress and Finals Week: We are on the Home Stretch

A quick search on google using the key words “stress,”  “finals” and “health” comes up with over 840,000 “hits” or pages and some scholarly articles.  Do you think that this is a hot topic? As the end of the semester approaches for the University of North Carolina and other schools, it is time for final exams and, with those, the stress level increases.  Many of the pages on the google search contain recommendations from various universities on how to handle the stress of finals.  What has this academic world come to? Are we putting too much pressure on the young adults?

Caffeine can become a dietary staple to enable students to sleep less to study more.  Different sources have different opinions on whether caffeine consumption is good or bad before or while studying for finals, but it is a fact that it is beneficial for the coffee companies.  It seems that everyone you see has a cup of some form of caffeinated beverage in their hand as you walk through campus.  Is it bad to be consuming large amounts of caffeine? Should it be consumed in moderation or not at all?

I do not know about you, but I can definitely see the benefits when I drink coffee or other caffeinated beverages. I feel more awake and alert and I definitely can stay up later studying. Caffeine is my friend during finals. I find it hard to try and relax in this time of extreme stress.  It seems practically impossible to take an hour or half an hour away from studying to do yoga or other beneficial tasks as described by the university pages on how to deal with finals stress.  To complicate matters further, as a person with Type 1 diabetes, stress also interferes with my blood sugar levels, which only adds more stress.  What do you do to deal with the end of the semester stress?  If you are not in school, how do you deal with your high stress situations?

Photo Credit: Florian Simeth


Just Do It!: What to Do After the Thanksgiving Meal!

After watching Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a full stomach and a joyful meal with family and friends, what should you do now? Exercise! As Elle Woods says in Legally Blonde, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.” Type 1 diabetes makes these holidays harder, because of all the high carb and sugary foods that are traditional to many holidays. Let’s face it, these foods are not good for any of us.  There are additional benefits to exercise beyond a better mood, including weight loss and an increase in energy. What better day to take a walk with your family? If the weather is bad, go somewhere inside and walk around, like a mall. Most malls are now open later in the day on Thanksgiving.  Are you inspired and ready yet? If not, check out this video from Huffington Post!

As the Nike logo says, “Just do it!


Video Credit: Huffington Post

Green is the New Health


Is green the new way to use health to market products? This August, the Coca-Cola Company released a new product, Coca-Cola Life, which boasts about 50 fewer calories than a “regular” Coca-Cola.

This is not the first time the company has produced a “healthier” alternative—products such as Diet Coke and Coke Zero have been marketing as low calorie and zero calorie options. However, Coca-Cola Life is marketed with a different appeal, such as its distinctive green-colored labeling.

The green may refer to the type of sweetener used in the new product. Instead of using controversial sweeteners such as acesulfame potassium and aspartame, Coke Life uses stevia, a natural sweetener, in addition to sugar. Thus, the product can be marketed to those opposed to artificial sweeteners, in addition to a lower calorie option that may retain a taste closer to a classic Coke.


Is Coke Life healthier than regular Coke? Perhaps. Is it healthy option in general? Maybe not. Either way, health-conscious consumers should be wary of this marketing that appeals to health. Even if the product is healthier, it is still a sugar-sweetened beverage, and at the end of the day, the company’s goal is to make a profit. Coca-Cola Life is an opportunity for the company to appeal to increasing consumer demands for health-conscious products while displaying a positive public image by providing a “healthier” option.

This may be especially important, since more of these “healthier” products may be released in the future, such as a copycat rival, Pepsi True.



Poetic Social Justice: An Approach for Type 2 Diabetes Awareness


Public health is often described as a science and an art, but have you thought about using poetry to tackle one of the most significant issues in the nation?

According to the 2014 CDC National Diabetes Statistics Report, there are 29.1 million people with Type 2 Diabetes in the U.S. Several lifestyle behaviors have been linked to the disease, but this public health problem, like many others, is complex and involves several social and environmental factors.

Youth Speaks, Inc. is an organization aimed at promoting, empowering, and create safe places for youth and young people for oral poetry such as spoken word and other works. The organization partnered with the University of California, San Francisco’s Center for Vulnerable Populations to create The Bigger Picture, a campaign to raise awareness about Type 2 Diabetes, including the institutional, environmental, and social factors.

Instead of traditional campaign messages, The Bigger Picture communicates through poetry developed and performed by youth sharing their stories and experiences with the disease, directly and indirectly. The art addresses issues such as physical effects, economic inequalities, class and access to health, and the food and beverage industries.

The poetry takes on several forms, such as metaphors to war and satires of industry, but they aim to start conversation among those affected, especially youth, and to reveal the larger institutional social, and environmental factors that play a role in the epidemic. Some of their pieces can be found on YouTube.

The Bigger Picture is also offering educational scholarships for youth who make great impacts with their statements or with their action.


Produce-ing Junk Food Tactics


Ever think about fighting fire with fire with marketing tactics? As reported by Linden Thayer’s 2012 post, Bolthouse Farms used the same methods used for marketing junk food to sell their baby carrots as attractive, kid-friendly snacks.

Led by former Cola-Cola executive and current CEO of Bolthouse Farms Jeff Dunn, the campaigns have been largely successful. According to CMO Bryan Reese, these campaigns for their products have yielded positive results, “sometimes as much as 10 times over.” In 2013, Bolthouse Farms unveiled its Innovation Center, a location devoted to the development of healthier snacks that are fun and exciting. It also houses the company’s marketing department, where these products are tested.


In 2014, the company partnered with grocery stores such as Giant Eagle and Walmart in a new initiative to market their produce items such as fruit tubes and baby carrots. These “Shakedowns” include flavorings that could easily be found on a bag of chips, such as ranch or chili lime. The items are located in a special section in the produce aisle, complete with signs that mimic the junk food aisle.

This pilot is especially promising, as this health communication strategy changes the environmental context at a grocery store.

As with any new product, drawbacks must be considered. For example, actual consumption of the products as well as the potential health effects of the flavorings used with the vegetables must be analyzed before one can claim success with increasing vegetable consumption. Please share your thoughts on this strategy with Upstream Downstream!


Soda Taxes Meet Calorie Counting

One of the most common ways people manage their health and weight is by calorie counting – a method of counting the calories in the food a person consumes in an effort to stay at or below a designated total of calorie intake per day. But a new study concerned about the effectiveness of current soda taxes brings forth a whole new idea to calorie counting.

In an effort to combat childhood and adult obesity in this country a number of states have made efforts to implement taxes on soda and other sugary drinks in hopes of curbing their consumption.

Currently, soda taxes are based on the number of ounces a drink contains, but a new study financed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation suggests a new taxing method that is a bit more complex: instead of using a tax based on a drink’s size, use a tax based on the amount of calories contained in a serving of the drink.

Consider this: under the current method of soda taxes, if you buy a 16oz drink that contains only 50 calories instead of a 12oz drink that contains 150 calories you are stuck paying more taxes for the larger drink even though the larger drink is healthier than the smaller drink. Doesn’t make a lot of sense, right? The only benefit behind this style of tax is its attempt to get you to buy a smaller sized drink, yet it has no regard for the sugar or calorie intake.

BUT, under the idea proposed by the recent study, you would pay taxes based on the calorie count – the drink with the more calories per serving would have a higher tax. Thus this new method aims at encouraging you to purchase the less sugary and ultimately healthier drink.

In the end, all of the soda taxes are focused on one central goal: reducing sugar intake in an effort to reduce obesity. The research suggests that calorie-counting based taxes would be more effective, but until the idea is successfully implemented and used it might just be an idea filled of sweet nothings…

To our readers: What are your thoughts on soda taxes? What are your thoughts and responses to this new idea of a soda tax based on calories?

Looking for some good soda tax humor? Check out this hilarious clip brought to us by Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation (shout-out to all of my fellow Hoosiers!).

Post source: “Study Examines Efficacy of Taxes on Sugary Drinks” by Stephanie Strom of The New York Times, published on June 2, 2014 at:

Yelp Help: Restaurant Reviews Help Health Officials Find Hundreds of Cases of Food Borne Illnesses

For many individuals looking for a new restaurant the famous online restaurant and business rating site, Yelp, can serve as a great aid in their search for a new place for dinner. But according to New York City health officials this social media site does more than tell a user how many stars people rank a restaurant.

Through the use of a pilot project conducted by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Columbia University and Yelp, researchers analyzed 294,000 reviews posted by Yelp users to discover a total of 468 posts consistent with cases of recent food borne illnesses.

The project consisted of sifting through hundreds of thousands of reviews that were posted between July 2012 and March 2013 in search of words such as “sick,” “vomit” and “food poisoning.” What the researchers found was shocking – nearly 500 posts about cases of food borne illness when in reality only 15 of those cases had been independently reported to the health department.

Further research into these findings led the New York City health department to identify 16 specific cases of people made ill by dishes such as shrimp and lobster cannelloni and macaroni and cheese spring rolls due to health code violations such as improper cold food storage, bare-hand contact with the food, and even live roaches in the restaurant!

Ultimately, the researchers of the study reported that they believe their results indicate that online restaurant reviews could aid in identifying unreported food borne illness outbreaks and even restaurant food handling violations.

Much more work is to be done to refine the project, but in the meantime Yelp users should continue in their vigilant posting of both the good and the bad about local restaurants because it seems their word-of-mouth just might save someone from putting bad food in their mouth.


Post Source: “Yelp helped NYC health officials find hundreds of cases of food borne illness” by Fox News, posted on May 22, 2014 at:

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