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Food Packaging Linked to Obesity and More News

Food Packaging Linked to Obesity and More News

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In today's Media Mix, the problem with the 'high blood pressure diet,' plus America's fast-food regions

Arthur Bovino

The Daily Meal brings you the biggest news from the food world.

Food Packaging Linked to Childhood Obesity: Yikes: While BPA has already been linked to certain kinds of cancer, now researchers say the chemical used in food packaging could be a factor behind childhood obesity. [Crains New York]

African-Americans Don't Follow the "High Blood Pressure Diet": The so-called "DASH" diet has helped many reduce their blood pressure, but African-Americans are less likely to adpot the diet. [U.S. News]

Fast Food in America: You'll never look at your local McDonald's the same again; a fast-food data visualizer put together a map of fast-food restaurants from coast to coast. [Co. Design]

KFC Appeals $8M Lawsuit: The lawsuit, filed by parents who claim salmonella left their daughter severely disabled, has gone back to court. [The Austrailian]

Inside Mario Batali's Home: In honor of the chef's birthday, Vanity Fair got a sneak peek at what he eats at home. [Huffington Post]

GM Foods Cause Health Problems: In a new study, rats fed certain genetically modified foods later developed tumors and liver and kidney problems. [LA Times]

The Controversial Ingredient Annie's Has Pledged To Remove From Its Mac And Cheese

With its bunny-shaped pasta and cute rabbit face on every box, Annie's Homegrown macaroni and cheese is a hit with kids. More importantly, it's popular with the parents who have the final say on what families bring home from the grocery store. That's because Annie's Homegrown is organic and has no added sugar or GMOs. Annie's has even kept these high standards – nothing artificial intentionally added – after General Mills bought the company in 2014 (via Mental Floss).

OK, but some artificial ingredients are added to Annie's macaroni and cheese, no matter how careful the brand is about selecting high-quality ingredients. They're called ortho-phthalates (the "ph" is silent), a family of chemicals added to plastics to make them more flexible. These chemicals are found in all kinds of materials, including the conveyor belts and PVC tubing used to move milk and other food products down the complex supply chain of a processed food such as macaroni and cheese (via The New York Times). Phthalates are even in the glues and inks used in packaging (via Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families). The chemical is more likely to leach into foods with a high fat content, such as dairy (and yes, that would include mac and cheese).

Annie's Homegrown recently added a statement to its website saying it will work to eliminate phthalates from its line of macaroni and cheese.

Empower Yourself for Healthy Weight Loss

For too many years we’ve waited for food and pharmaceutical drug manufacturers to create the “magic pill” for weight loss…to no avail. Yet somehow, our ancestors seemed to face significantly less health and weight issues than we do today.

When you turn back the pages of time, even just 60 – 70 years, you start to see some common threads when it comes to healthy weight: we were closer to nature and natural products.

All of the “improvements” that modern life has brought us, have also exposed our bodies and lives to the kind of technology and chemicals that the human body was not “built” to withstand.

When I created the Body Ecology system of health and healing, it was to address digestive problems, fatigue and low immunity. Over decades of research and anecdotal evidence from thousands of Body Ecology followers, I realized how crucial a healthy digestive tract is to human health and wellness.

Inside your inner ecosystem is a mix of bacteria and yeast (microflora) and if you have enough healthy microflora to keep the bad guys in check, your immunity is strong.

Unfortunately, our modern life has created too many people with imbalanced inner ecosystems and therefore, lowered immunity. And it’s not just health issues that result…weight issues show up as well.

If you want to truly heal your body and maintain a healthy weight, I encourage you to simply go back to the basics…go back to Nature and natural solutions.

Empower yourself with natural health and weight loss! Read the Body Ecology Diet and learn the 7 natural superfoods and 7 healing principles that will have you feeling your best for the long-term. Get your copy of The Body Ecology Diet today and don’t miss our FREE bonus for every purchase!

Rather than being a part of someone else’s lab experiment, choose to educate yourself about your body’s true needs for nutrition and balance. I encourage you to read The Body Ecology Diet to learn about the 7 healing superfoods found in nature and the 7 principles that create long-term natural health and balance.

And if there’s one “magic pill” that I’ve found in my research, it can only be fermented foods and drinks. Not truly apill, but certainly seeming like magic, fermented foods and drinks contain probiotics that boost your immunity and definitely assist in weight loss.
Instead of suppressing hunger, which is a natural and necessary function of the human body, probiotics reduce or eliminate cravings for sugar and processed foods.

Because after all, instead of you trying to manipulate and control your body (which never works in the long run), wouldn’t you rather your body supported you in perfect health and weight as it was created to do?

Imagine a world where children drank healing probiotic liquids, like InnergyBiotic, instead of sugary, health-depleting soda pop and energy drinks? Boost your energy and immunity naturally with whole-food fermented and probiotic-rich InnergyBiotic! Now in on-the-go sizes, perfect for your kids’ lunch box

Over the years, I’ve become frustrated with what is happening in our food supply, particularly to our children’s health and childhood obesity.

This is truly the only reason that I developed healing products as part of the Body Ecology line. Imagine a world where children drank probiotic liquids that contributeto growth, intelligence, happiness and productiveness rather than destroyed it?

Imagine a world where adults and even young children drank Green Drinks for a pick-me up every morning instead of coffee?

Imagine a world where you felt empowered to be healthy…instead of confused and frustrated by the latest in ingredient and drug technology?

Take charge of your health. I invite you to make a 3-month investment in healing your digestion, your immunity, your weight and your health on the Body Ecology program. Come back to Nature and natural solutions…your body will thank you for it!

Exercise advice on food labels could help to tackle the obesity crisis

Labelling food and drinks with how much walking or running is needed to burn them off could help tackle the obesity crisis, researchers say.

While all packaged food must display certain nutritional information, such as calorie content, there is limited evidence that the approach changes what people buy or eat. Meanwhile, waistlines continue to expand.

A new study backs another approach to labelling: displaying small symbols showing how much physical activity is needed to compensate for consuming the item.

A fizzy drink containing 138 calories, for example, could be accompanied by a small symbol of a person showing it would take 26 minutes of walking or 13 minutes of running to burn off.

The team say the approach puts calories in context and may help people to avoid overeating, or spur them to move about more in a bid to burn off the energy they have consumed. They also suggest it might encourage food producers to make products with less calories.

“We think there is a clear signal that it might be useful,” said Prof Amanda Daley of Loughborough University, first author of the research. “We are not saying get rid of current labelling, we’d say add this to it.”

Daley said a simple approach is important since it is thought we only spend about six seconds looking at food before deciding whether to buy it.

“In that [time] we’ve got to have something that you can easily understand and make sense of without having to have a PhD in mathematics to work out what [eating] a quarter of a pizza actually means,” she said.

“If I tell you something is going to take you 60 minutes of walking to burn, I think most people understand that and know that 60 minutes of walking is a long way.”

Writing in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, Daley and her colleagues report how they analysed data from 14 previously conducted studies exploring the impact of an exercise-based labelling system.

The team found that compared with no labelling or other labelling approaches taken together, participants selected on average about 65 fewer calories per meal when exercise-based labels were present on food or menus. That’s less than a single chocolate digestive biscuit at 83 calories.

Digging deeper, the team found people selected 103 fewer calories when the exercise-based labels were used compared with no labelling alone.

“In restaurants and coffee shops, where we eat most of our high-calorie foods, you would typically see no labelling at all,” said Daley.

However, there was no clear benefit compared with other types of labelling such as calorie-only labelling, daily intake labelling or “traffic light” labelling.

Similarly, an analysis based on studies that looked at calories actually consumed revealed individuals ate about 110 calories fewer when food was labelled with exercise-based information compared with no labelling.

While the gains may sound small, Daley said such reductions add up across meals.

“People think that obesity is caused by gluttony. It isn’t. Obesity is caused by all of us eating just a little bit too much,” she said.

However, the research has limitations: most of the studies were based on hypothetical situations or laboratory-based work, and there was a limited number of them.

The studies also varied considerably in how they explored the impact of exercise-based labelling.

Duncan Stephenson, deputy chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, welcomed the research, saying the charity’s own work showed such exercise-based labelling both made consumers think twice about their purchases, and motivated them to think about exercising.

But, he said, “real-life” studies are now needed to test the system’s impact in supermarkets and restaurants. Dr Stacey Lockyer of the British Nutrition Foundation also said an approach which reduces people’s daily intake by up to 195 calories is worth considering. She said that, on average, adults overshoot their daily recommended calories by this amount, while overweight and obese adults consume approximately 320 excess calories per day.

Lockyer noted that there is evidence an exercise-based labelling system appeals to consumers.

Dr Frankie Phillips, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, said exercise-based labelling could also prove confusing, while a focus on calories – although a useful indicator – does not tell a consumer whether food or drink is “healthy”.

“For example, calories labelled on a sandwich might come to around 400kcal whereas a chocolate confectionery bar might be 350kcal,” she said. “If calories are given central importance then the chocolate bar would appear to be a better choice, whereas a more balanced approach would obviously show that a sandwich is far superior nutritionally, despite being higher in calories.”

Food Marketing and Labeling

The billions of dollars that the food industry spends on junk-food marketing each year influence what children eat-and what they pester their parents to buy. That’s why curbing junk-food marketing to children is an urgently needed strategy for obesity prevention. Also important is giving consumers more information about what’s really in their food, by standardizing nutrition labels and adding calorie information to restaurant menus. Changes in food marketing and labeling can make it easier for everyone to make better food choices, and may also nudge food producers to create healthier offerings. In the U.S., for example, after the Food and Drug Administration required manufacturers to start listing heart-harmful trans fats on the Nutrition Facts label in 2006, food makers and restaurants switched to using more healthful sources of fat. Since then, trans fat levels in the U.S. food supply have dropped, as have blood levels of trans fat. (Read more about trans fats on The Nutrition Source website.)

Here is a summary of food marketing and labeling recommendations for obesity prevention, based on a review of expert guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, the Institute of Medicine, and others. For more detailed guidance on these recommendations and ideas for putting them into practice, explore the source list and the links to other resources.

Food Marketing to Children

Limit marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks to children on television and other electronic media (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11)

  • Require food marketed to children to meet nutritional standards (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11)
  • Limit the amount of time per hour of children’s programming that can include food marketing (1)
  • Encourage the food and restaurant industry to shift marketing efforts toward more healthful foods and beverages for children (12)
  • If voluntary efforts to improve the nutritional quality of foods marketed to children on television are not successful, enact federal legislation (12)

Restrict food product placement in television shows/movies, and restrict other forms of marketing to children, such as marketing agreements between entertainment brands and food brands (2,11,13)

Restrict food marketing in settings where children gather, such as parks and near schools (2,9,11,14,15,16,17,18)

Monitor compliance with and enforcement of child food marketing regulations at the national level (5,9,12,16)

Restaurant Marketing and Menu Labeling

Require restaurants to post calorie information on menus and menu boards (1,3,4,7,8,10,13,15,17,19,20,21)Restaurant Marketing and Menu Labeling

Give restaurants incentives to offer healthier items, such as by creating promotional campaigns that highlight or recognize healthy restaurants or by offering other marketing support (1,15,17,20,21)

Set nutrition requirements for meals that include toys, giveaways, or other incentives aimed at children (10,11,13)

Nutrition Labeling

Standardize front-of-package health labeling (5,8,10,11,22,23)

Require more prominent calorie-per-serving labeling on food packaging (23)

Require additional information on food labeling, such as recommended daily limit on added sugar consumption or caffeine consumption (23)

Public Health Marketing

Develop public service media and social marketing campaigns to promote healthy eating and drinking (1,3,4,12,17)

Develop counter-marketing campaigns, such as campaigns that highlight the negative health impact of sugar-sweetened beverages and other unhealthful foods (1,4,24)

Food Marketing and Labeling-Source List

1. American Academy of Pediatrics.Prevention and Treatment of Child Overweight and Obesity: Policy Opportunities Tool. American Academy of Pediatrics, 2010. Accessed October 4, 2010.

6. Obesity Policy Coalition.Obesity Prevention: Priorities for Action. Carlton, Victoria, Australia: Obesity Policy Coalition 2007.

9. World Health Organization. Set of recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children. In:Prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases: implementation of the global strategy. Geneva: World Health Organization November 2009.

11. Levi J, Segal LM, St. Laurent R, Kohn D.F as in Fat 2011: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future. Washington, D.C.: Trust for America’s Health/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation 2011.

13. Center for Science in the Public Interest.Reducing Junk Food Marketing to Children: State and Local Policy Options for Advocates and Policy Makers. Washington, D.C.: Center for Science in the Public Interest 2010.

14. Khan LK, Sobush K, Keener D, et al. Recommended community strategies and measurements to prevent obesity in the United States.MMWR Recomm Rep. 200958:1-26.

15. Institute of Medicine.Local government actions to prevent childhood obesity. Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences Press 2009.

18. Friedman R.Strategies to Prevent Overweight and Obesity. New Haven: Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity 2010.

19. American Heart Association.Policy Position Statement on Menu Labeling. Dallas: American Heart Association 2008.

Food environment key to improving eating habits in deprived areas


The ‘Shop Well-Eat Well’ campaign, unveiled by plant-based food and drink producer Alpro and the British Dietetic Association at a briefing in London yesterday (22 March), identified a host of barriers encountered by people in deprived areas that prevent them from accessing affordable, sustainable and healthy eating.

The initiative, which starts in June, will create a programme of community events in the London Borough of Southwark designed to help those on low incomes overcome some of these barriers.

“With childhood obesity on the rise, especially in deprived areas like Southwark, healthy eating has to be made easier for consumers, with the onus taken off the individual, in order to focus on big changes in key environmental factors,”​ said Alpro.

It said a multi-agency approach was urgently needed to tackle the issue, bringing together government, local authorities, food providers as well as local communities.

The Obesity Epidemic in America and the Responsibility of Big Food Manufacturers

Millions of people in the United States are considered obese. As waistlines continue to increase, people are asking the question: Who is to blame? Is it because American&rsquos have become lazy and are more irresponsible with their food choices? Are fast food chains the &ldquobad guys&rdquo? Are we all genetically pre-disposed to be &ldquofat&rdquo or &ldquoskinny&rdquo? Or, is there another factor contributing to the widespread obesity problem? We are exposed on a daily basis to hundreds of advertisements, many promoting specific foods that are supposed to be convenient and nutritious. The food industry, miraculously, has escaped taking the brunt of the blame for years, using fast food as a scapegoat. Fast food, while a major contributor, is not the primary cause of the obesity epidemic in America. Numerous studies have proven that personal food choices, lack of exercise, and genetic disposition all play a role in a person&rsquos weight however, there are other elements that influence our weight. In particular, food producers that supply the high calorie, minimally nutritious, and highly processed foods that dominate our market must be examined.

Deborah Cohen for the Washington Post wrote in one article, &ldquoThe food industry spends billions of dollars each year to develop products, packaging, advertising and marketing techniques that entice us to buy more food because selling more food means making more profits&rdquo (Cohen). If you think about it, we are constantly being enticed to purchase things we don&rsquot need, and that includes food. Big companies like Coca Cola and General Mills make millions of dollars every year using researched methods of advertising similar to McDonald&rsquos and Burger King. While McDonald&rsquos has been accused of drawing in children with their signature play places and happy meals, nobody is talking about the 3 billion bags of potato chips sold in the U.S. annually. The slogan, &ldquoYou Can&rsquot Eat Just One,&rdquo used by Frito Lay to advertise their chips, appears to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Other food companies are using similar strategies, attaching promises of satisfaction paired with happy-go-lucky phrases sure to melt your grandma&rsquos heart. The Blue Bell ice cream company claims their employees &ldquoEat all they can, and sell the rest,&rdquo and Little Debbie says you will &ldquoUnwrap a Smile&rdquo when you open one of their cakes.

Consequently, there is far less time invested in advertising foods that are actually good for us. &ldquoAdvertising of fruits and vegetables is almost non-existent,&rdquo says Frances M. Berg in his book &ldquoUnderage and Overweight&rdquo (Burg 97). The truth of Berg&rsquos statement was validated in a study released March 2007 by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. This study found that most of the food ads children and teens see on television are for foods that nutritionists and government agencies argue should be consumed either in moderation, occasionally, or in small portions. Out of the 8,854 food ads reviewed in the study, there were no ads for fruits and vegetables targeted at children or teens (Brody). Is it a coincidence that according to the Federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approximately 18 percent of adolescents are considered obese?

Bill Whitaker, a CBS News correspondent conducted a similar study of TV ads on kids. The results showed that American children are bombarded with commercials for unhealthy foods that contain a lot of salt, fat, and sugars (Huff). When kids see commercials displaying Banana Sundae Pop Tarts and Chocolate Chip Cookie cereal, they think, &ldquoThat&rsquos what I want for breakfast!&rdquo Children are an easy target for the food industry. Young and impressionable, children are eager to eat whatever looks and tastes good.

This is where the food industry begins throwing around the term &ldquopersonal responsibility.&rdquo Big companies and corporations are quick to defend their position, asking questions like &ldquoAre we to blame for merely providing people with what they want?&rdquo Food advertisers believe that since they are not forcing anyone to purchase what they offer they are not responsible for the consequences. While I recognize that people are accountable for what they eat, it is increasingly difficult to control eating habits due to what is readily available to us. Many American&rsquos live active lifestyles, some working one or two jobs with a family, or going to college full time. With little time to evaluate the truthfulness of advertising labels, it&rsquos easy to succumb to the falsities that are fed to us. In February of 2010, The Center for Science in the Public Interest put together a lengthy report for the Food and Drug Administration. According to Ethan A. Huff, the report contains detailed information about food manufacturers making false or misleading health claims about their products. Kellogg&rsquos, like many other food companies, has been hit with lawsuits for false advertising. Just this year, Kellogg&rsquos was sued in the U.S. District Court of Southern California for their unreliable representation of Nutri-Grain bars, one of its leading breakfast cereal products (Brody). The advertisement features their yogurt bar in front of glasses of water, salads, and people exercising, suggestion that their product is somehow related to a healthy lifestyle. They used the slogan, &ldquoEat Better All Day,&rdquo because of the calcium and whole grains contained in the bar. But the plaintiffs of this case argue that those claims are invalid, due to the existence of trans-fat which contribute to diabetes and heart disease. Although Kellogg&rsquos has dismissed this case as, &ldquoHaving no merit,&rdquo it reveals much about what is going on underneath the surface of many food manufacturers.

In her book &ldquoFed Up! Winning the War Against Childhood Obesity,&rdquo Susan Okie states that in the Fall of 2003, the director of the CDC declared obesity the number one health threat in the United States (Okie). If obesity is the greatest threat facing our country today, the food industry must start acting more responsibly. More action should be taken to stop the obesity epidemic. In response to overwhelming scrutiny over misleading labels, big cereal companies like Kelloggs, General Mills, and Post Foods have begun making small changes to their products. The Kellogg Company reformulated many of their original recipes, including Fruit Loops, Apples Jacks, and Corn Pops. The sugar has been reduced by 1-3 grams of sugar, and they&rsquove added fiber to many of their other cereals. Post Cereal has also adjusted some of their classic cereals, reducing sugar in Fruity Pebbles and Cocoa Puffs by about twenty percent (Skidmore). While these are small victories, greater change could take place if other food companies began making additional changes.

While there are many contributing factors to obesity, such as over-eating, poor food choices, genetic disposition, and lack of exercise, the problem goes far beyond individual behavior. We cannot focus on fast food alone we must look at the food industry as a whole. The food industry can make a significant contribution to reduce obesity by cutting back on sugary or fattening products, offering healthier choices, becoming more transparent with nutritional information, and ending false or misleading advertising. Perhaps then we can move towards being a healthier nation.


Brody, Jane E. "Risks for Youths Who Eat What They Watch." New York Times. New York, 19 April 2010.

Burg, Frances M. Underage and Overweight. Hatherleigh Press, 2004.

Byrne, Jane. "Nutri-Grain legal challenge has &lsquono merit&rsquo, says Kellogg." Food Navigator-USA. 4 February 2010.

Cohen, Deborah. "A Desired Epidemic: Obesity and the Food Industry." Washington Post. 20 February 2007.

Huff, Ethan A. Big Food&rsquo Manufacturers Being Called Out for False Nutritional Claims. Article, 2004.

Okie, Susan. Fed Up! Winning the War Against Childhood Obesity. Joseph Henry Press, 2005.

Skidmore, Sarah. "Cereal Giant General Mills To Cut Back On Sugar." Hartford Courant. 10 December 2009.

Nutrition News: Foods We Crave, GMO Labeling, Light and Obesity

We eat in hopes of satisfying our hunger, but some foods actually do the opposite, activating areas in our brain and gut that stir our desire for more. “The sight, smell, or taste of some food will trigger the cephalic food response,” Dr. Belinda Lennerz, an endocrinologist affiliated with Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, told Time. The news magazine’s website fingers nine foods that create, rather than curb, cravings. They are … processed carbs like 1) potato chips, 2) crackers and 3) bread sugary foods like 4) cookies, 5) cake and 6) sweets easy-to-swallow foods like 7) low-fat, single-serve yogurt and 8) diet drinks and 9) artificially sweetened snack foods.

Pretty soon, it should be somewhat clearer to you whether the foods you buy contain genetically modified ingredients. President Obama has signed into law legislation passed by Congress requiring the makers of foods that contain GMOs to alert consumers to their inclusion by featuring a text label, symbol or smartphone-readable electronic code on product packaging.

The Agriculture Department has been tasked with producing specific labeling regulations for companies to adhere to within the next two years. “The food industry says 75 percent to 80 percent of foods contain genetically modified ingredients — most of those corn and soy-based,” notes the Washington Post. “The Food and Drug Administration says they are safe to eat.”

Light the lights (but not at night)

Can too much light at night make you fat? A new study by Japanese researchers has determined that, among older adults, exposure to bright light at night and low light in the morning is linked to abdominal weight gain, regardless of calorie consumption, exercise or sleep timing — and that, conversely, exposure to dimmer light at night and bright light in the a.m. may actually help with weight loss, Reuters Health reports.

The researchers suspect that exposure to inappropriately timed light may result in misaligned circadian rhythms, which may affect the secretion of the hormone melatonin, which is associated with the expenditure of energy. They add that young people, who are more sensitive to light, may be affected even more than the older people involved in the study. They recommend battling obesity by (in part) boosting daytime sunlight exposure and curtailing nighttime exposure to artificial light from TVs and smartphones.

Amy Reiter is a writer and editor based in New York. A regular contributor to The Los Angeles Times, she has also written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Glamour, Marie Claire, The Daily Beast and Wine Spectator, among others, as well as for Salon, where she was a longtime editor and senior writer.

Fat? Carbs? ADA Experts Link Obesity to Ultra-Processed Foods

That poignant question, asked by Dr. Kevin Hall, underlined a fascinating debate on the causes of metabolic disease hosted by the American Diabetes Association on the first day of its 80 th annual Scientific Sessions.

As three panelists wrestled with the question of what causes metabolic disease, a consensus appeared to emerge that highly processed foods are primarily to blame for the obesity epidemic and the resultant spread of Type 2 diabetes and other metabolic diseases. Neither fat nor carbohydrates alone can explain the rise of metabolic illness in Western society.

The most forceful testimony was given by Dr. Hall, of the NIDDK, who examined the role of caloric excess in the pathogenesis of metabolic disease. Echoing arguments that have been met with some controversy when advanced in previous years by anti-obesity advocates such as Gary Taubes, Dr. Hall dismissed the idea that caloric excess in any way explained the obesity epidemic as a useless truism: “The concept that we are eating too much and burning too few calories is much too simple of an idea.”

“Carlories are important, but that in no way explains what’s going on. It doesn’t explain why people have consumed more calories than they’ve expended. Counting calories does not give you any insights into the cause of Type 2 diabetes… The idea that sometime in the 1970s that not just the US but the entire world lost their willpower to count calories is just nonsense.”

Dr. Hall’s presentation focused on the carbohydrate-insulin model of obesity: the idea that excessive insulin levels due to high carbohydrate consumption essentially act a signal to begin energy storage, causing the fat cells to absorb energy that they do not need, which results in weight gain and in overeating, starting the whole cycle again. This theory has been extremely popular with low-carb advocates, as it tends to blame high dietary carbohydrate consumption for the development of insulin resistance, obesity, and other metabolic dysfunctions.

While Dr. Hall’s research has confirmed some aspects of the carb-insulin model, it has rather pointedly contradicted other aspects. A recent study that he led (available in preprint) randomly assigned participants to either a plant-based high-carb or a high-fat diet, allowing each group to eat as much as they wished every day after two weeks, the groups swapped diets. Exactly as expected, the participants eating a high-carb diet showed significantly higher insulin and blood glucose levels. However, contrary perhaps to expectations, the people on the low-fat diet ate some 700 calories fewer per day, and as a result lost more weight as well. The results were consistent in every single participant of the study. (The diets were found to be equally satisfying and pleasing, by the way.)

Reviewing macro eating trends in the US since the 70’s, Dr. Hall noted while both carbohydrate and fats have risen in parallel, as a percentage of overall consumption they have remained more or less flat. The most striking change in eating patterns, in fact, has been the explosion of ultra-processed foods, and the concomitant decline in minimally-processed and freshly prepared foods: “If you look at [food] quality in terms of how extensively foods are processed, the consumption of ultra-processed foods has gone up dramatically. It now constitutes more than half of the calories that we consume in many Western nations.”

But most public discussion of highly processed foods (and junk foods) has concentrated on the high salt, sugar and fat contents of these meals. Dr. Hall wondered if this was missing the point, and to test his hunch, he designed a second study. This time, he first put together a two-week menu consisting mostly of ultra-processed meals. With the help of a creative kitchen team, he then designed a second menu of foods that were fresh and minimally processed but that had exactly the same amounts of carbs, fat, protein, sugar and sodium as the first menu. Again, two groups were asked to eat as much or as little they liked of one of the two diets, selected randomly, for two weeks in the following two weeks, they switched from one diet to the other. Participants on the ultra-processed diet ate an extra 500 calories per day, increasing both carb and fat consumption in concert. They also gained weight. On the less processed diet, the same study participants lost weight.

That there is something unknown but profoundly unhealthy about highly processed ingredients was the focus of the presentation by Dr. Barbara Corkey of the Boston University School of Medicine, a doyenne of diabetes research.

Dr. Corkey emphasized that it is impossible to determine the causation of metabolic disease because we simply don’t know which comes first: insulin resistance, obesity, or hyperinsulinemia. The three states are highly correlated but as yet science has not definitively shown that one causes any other.

“Most people would probably tell me that obesity came first. But I’m not sure that I believe that. And I certainly don’t believe that in the absence of any evidence.”

Noting that many historical communities have thrived on high-carbohydrate diets with no evidence of metabolic disease, Dr. Corkey suggested that the amount of carbohydrates in the modern diet is less concerning than the nature of these carbohydrates. To illustrate her meaning, Dr. Corkey pointed to the ingredient panels on a variety of modern high-carb products, such as Wonder Bread and Rice-A-Roni, which include a bewildering number of additives and chemicals.

Dr. Corkey’s research shows that some of these additives, including monoglycerides and iron, prompt a dramatic increase in basal insulin secretion that is totally unrelated to glucose consumption. Given that Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome are associated with a far greater increase in basal insulin secretion than in postprandial insulin secretion, perhaps these modern additives (that are so ubiquitous in processed foods) have an outsized effect on metabolic dysfunction. She also wondered whether other environmental factors, such as the widespread of use plastic packaging, also contribute to the obesity epidemic in as yet undiscovered ways. Dr. Corkey suggested that much of the success of low-carbohydrate diets may be due to the fact that, by encouraging the consumption of fresh ingredients, they essentially guarantee that dieters will avoid these deleterious aspects of processed foods.

Dr Corkey also agreed with the conclusions of our resident expert, Dr. Mariela Glandt that the use of insulin to treat Type 2 diabetes is problematic. If T2D is caused primarily by Beta cell abuse (by eating a diet that demands more insulin than the pancreas can properly produce), adding more exogenous insulin fails to address the root cause of the condition. The current treatment, which focuses primarily on blood glucose rather than insulin levels, does not lead to a cure, and in fact almost invariably sees the condition worsen over time.

Dr. Sarah Hallberg, the medical director of Virta Health, considered the role of fats in the development of metabolic diseases. “You are not what you eat,” she quipped, reviewing several studies that showed that dietary saturated fat intake was almost wholly unrelated to the amount of saturated fat present in the blood.

Dr. Hallberg demonstrated that body’s use of saturated fat is actually dependent on the context in which it is consumed, the entire dietary matrix, particularly the level of carbohydrate consumption. High levels of carbohydrates tend to raise the insulin response that “shuttles” saturated fat into storage, leading to insulin resistance. But in the context of a low-carbohydrate background, saturated fat is properly used by the body, a healthier outcome.

The message which emerged across all three presentations was that neither fats nor carbohydrates was exclusively to blame for obesity and associated metabolic disorders. Rather, carbohydrates and fats work together, especially in the context of a highly-processed diet, which seems to prompt spiking insulin levels, overeating and weight gain. (Protein, the other macronutrient, escaped blame entirely.)

What does this all mean for the treatment of metabolic disease? Dr. Hallberg asserted that, while humans can tolerate high levels of minimally processed carbohydrates, “Once you have metabolic disease, if you want to control the existing disease, our options shrink to a low-carbohydrate, high-fat intake.”

Dr. Corkey also largely approved of the low-carb approach to metabolic disease, declaring that there was “no valid support for any level of carbohydrate intake in diabetes… You can eliminate carbs without causing harm. You can’t eliminate fats or protein.”

Pointing to a recent study that showed that 88% of American adults have some form of metabolic dysfunction, Dr. Hallberg stated that “most of us right now need to be consuming on the lower-carb, higher-fat end of the spectrum.”

Ross Wollen

Ross Wollen is a chef and writer based in Maine's Midcoast region. Before moving East, Ross was a veteran of the Bay Area restaurant and artisanal food scenes he has also worked as a food safety consultant. As executive chef of Belcampo Meat Co., Ross helped launch the bone broth craze. Since his diagnosis with Type 1 diabetes in 2017, he has focused on exploring the potential of naturally low-carb cooking.

Study links BPA, obesity risk in girls

Unhealthy diets and limited physical activity are leading causes of obesity in children, and now new research adds to growing evidence that the chemical BPA found in food packaging may be partly to blame.

The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, shows girls between ages 9 and 12 with high BPA levels had double the risk of being obese than girls with low BPA levels, validating previous animal and human studies, said Kimberly Gray, a health scientist at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

BPA, or bisphenol-A , is a chemical laced in everything from plastic bottles to metal food containers. The chemical can alter the body's metabolism and make it harder to lose weight, experts said.

The study by Kaiser Permanente draws on urine samples of 1,326 male and female children from fourth through 12th grades at three Shanghai schools. Researchers took into account common obesity risk factors, including diet, mental health, amount of physical activity, and family history.

Girls between ages 9 and 12 with high levels of BPA — 2 micrograms per liter or more — were two times more likely to be obese than girls with lower levels of BPA in the same age group. Girls with very high levels of BPA — more than 10 micrograms per liter — were five times more likely to be obese, the study shows.

"There's this dogma that weight is about calories simply going in and out. This research suggests that's simply not the case," said Bruce Blumberg, a professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of California, Irvine. Blumberg was not involved in the study.

Here's the catch: Researchers did not find any significant relationship between BPA and obesity levels in girls older than 12 and boys of all ages. Puberty-age girls could be more sensitive to the impact of BPA on metabolism, said lead researcher De-Kun Li.

"It's the proverbial chicken-egg scenario. We could be seeing the opposite trend at work," said Leonardo Trasande, associate professor of environmental medicine and pediatrics at New York University (NYU).

Because BPA easily absorbs into fatty tissue, children with obesity could also be more likely to secrete the chemical, said John Meeker, associate professor of environmental health science at the University of Michigan.

Li dismissed the claim, saying that if obese children secreted more BPA, obese children in all age groups would have high BPA levels and they didn't see that pattern.

The new study confirms a 2012 study by NYU researchers which found that more than 22% of kids and teens ages 6 to 19 with the highest BPA levels were obese. Kids and teens with low BPA levels had a 10% risk of obesity, according to the study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains the safety of the low exposure levels of BPA in food packaging and will review the study to address BPA safety, said FDA spokesperson Theresa Eisenman.

"Attempts to link our national obesity problem to minute exposures to chemicals found in common, everyday products are a distraction from the real efforts underway to address this important national health issue," the American Chemistry Council, a major trade association, wrote in a statement.

Long-term, population-based studies that track BPA from the womb to early adulthood are required to confirm the relationship. Urine samples fail to measure BPA lodged in tissue and more specific measures of obesity and hormones are needed, Gray said.

Researchers of the new study plan to examine BPA exposure in the womb, Li said.

What's the takeaway? BPA exposure is nearly ubiquitous, said Philip Gruppuso, professor of pediatrics at Brown University. More than 92% of Americans older than age 6 have detectable levels of BPA in their body, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says.

Gruppuso advises parents to limit use of food packaged in plastic and avoid heating infant formulas — but with a grain of salt.

"You can go crazy trying to think of all the things you might do to prevent exposure," he said. "Don't over-interpret the results. The major hazard may not be the plastic but the food the plastic is used to wrap up."

Obesity facts

  • According to the World Health Organization (WHO), at least 2.8 million people dying each year as a result of being overweight or obese
  • In 2008, over 40 million preschool children were overweight worldwide
  • The WHO suggests that more than 1 in 4 (28.1%) of adults in the UK are obese (has a BMI of 30 or more).
  • The UK has the highest level of adult obesity in Europe
  • Copeland in Cumbria is the most overweight local authority in England
  • Studies into obesity prevention have shown that giving up watching television for a week reduces a child’s waist size by an average 2.3cm (just under 1 inch)

People who use Low Carb Program have achieved weight loss, improved HbA1c, reduced medications and type 2 diabetes remission.


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