Would you like to eat a more healthful lunch? Try ordering your food at least an hour before lunchtime. A news release from Carnegie Mellon University reports that researchers at the school have found that people choose higher-calorie meals when ordering immediately before eating and lower-calorie meals when orders are placed an hour or more in advance. Here’s how they know: The researchers did two field studies examining online lunch orders of 690 employees using an onsite corporate cafeteria, and a third study with 195 university students selecting among catered lunch options. Across all three studies, they noted that meals with higher calorie content were ordered and consumed when there were shorter (or no) waiting periods between ordering and eating. In the first study, they looked at more than 1,000 orders that could be placed any time after 7 a.m. to be picked up between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. The second study randomly assigned participants to place orders before 10 a.m. or after 11 a.m. The third study randomly assigned university students to order lunch before or after class, with lunches provided immediately after class. In the first study, they found that for every hour of delay between when the order was placed and the food was ready (average delay of 105 minutes), there was a decrease of approximately 38 calories in the items ordered. In the second study, the researchers found that those who placed orders in advance, with an average delay of 168 minutes, had an average reduction of 30 calories (568 vs. 598) compared to those who ordered closer to lunchtime (with an average delay of 42 minutes between ordering and eating). The third study showed that students who placed orders in advance ordered significantly fewer calories (an average of 890 calories) compared to those who ordered at lunchtime (an average of 999 calories).
Six years after New York City started to require chain restaurants to print calorie counts on the menu, the influence of the policy on the number of calories consumed is…..nada. A New York University news release reports that researchers at NYU’s Langone Medical Center, who analyzed data from 7,699 fast-food diners in New York City and nearby New Jersey cities, found that the average number of calories bought by patrons at each sitting between January 2013 and June 2014 was statistically the same as those in a similar survey of 1,068 fast-food diners in 2008, when New York City initially imposed menu labeling. Diners were surveyed at major fast-food chains: McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, and Wendy’s. Calorie counts in the 2013-2014 analysis averaged between 804 and 839 per meal at menu-labeled restaurants, and between 802 and 857 per meal at non-labeled eateries; whereas, they averaged 783 per meal for labeled restaurants and 756 per meal for non-labeled restaurants shortly after the policy was introduced.
While the Coca-Cola Company is claiming that America’s obesity problem is less a calorie-related issue than a lack-of-exercise issue, researchers at the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine have a different opinion: they say exercise does not help us lose weight. Science Daily reports that the researchers, writing in the International Journal of Epidemiology, detailed the evidence that physical activity is not key to losing weight. Here we go:
• It’s often argued that low obesity rates in Africa, India and China are due in part to strenuous daily work routines. But the evidence does not support this notion. For example, African Americans tend to weigh more than Nigerians. But studies have found that when corrected for body size, Nigerians do not burn more calories through physical activity than African Americans.
• Numerous clinical trials have found that exercise plus calorie restriction achieves virtually the same weight loss as calorie restriction alone.
• Observational studies show no association between energy expenditure and subsequent weight change.
• Extremely small proportions of the U.S. population engage in levels of energy expenditure at a sufficiently high level to affect long-term energy balance.
Yikes! Who to believe? Loyola researchers or Coca-Cola? Here’s a clue: the New York Times reports that an analysis published in PLOS Medicine found that studies financed by Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, the American Beverage Association and the sugar industry were five times more likely to find no link between sugary drinks and weight gain than studies reporting no industry sponsorship or financial conflicts of interest.
Much has changed in the past 17 years, but one thing that remains the same is the unhealthfulness of fast food. HealthDay reports on a study conducted at the Department of Agriculture’s Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory, that looked at the nutrition of fries, cheeseburgers, grilled chicken sandwiches and regular cola served at fast food restaurants from 1996 to 2013. The researchers focused on 27 items, including small, medium and large fries and cola beverages, a grilled chicken sandwich, and 2-ounce and 4-ounce cheeseburgers. Ready? The envelope please….The researchers found that the average calorie content, salt content and saturated fat content of these items stayed more or less the same over the 17-year period.
First the good news: fast food is more healthful than it has been in years. And now the bad: it’s still a long way from healthful. The Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University reports that a survey of calorie counts at fast food restaurants shows that this year’s core offerings contain 60 fewer calories (or 12 percent fewer calories) than their traditional menu selections in 2012 and 2013. How did they make unhealthful food healthful? OK, they didn’t do that, exactly, but they did add a lot of more healthful foods, like salads. When the researchers, who analyzed data from MenuStat, looked at menu options in 66 of the 100 largest U.S. restaurant chains for 2012 and 2013 they found that newer, lower-calorie items fell into the categories of main course, beverages and children’s menus. The researchers remind us that on a typical day, 33 percent of young children, 41 percent of adolescents and 36 percent of adults, eat at fast-food restaurants, with an average intake of 191 calories, 404 calories, and 315 calories, respectively. So will 60 calories make a difference? Lead study author Sara Bleich says yes, “the impact on obesity could be significant.”
Turns out that overeating high calorie foods is doubly troublesome: not only does it increase the production of “bad” white fat, it also leads to dysfunction in “good” brown fat cells, cells that, when functioning normally, actually burn calories. Futurity reports that the revelation comes from researchers at Boston University, who used experimental models to demonstrate that “over-nutrition” leads to a cellular signaling dysfunction that causes brown fat cells to lose neighboring blood vessels, depriving the cells of oxygen. This, in turn, causes the brown fat cells to lose their mitochondria, which leads to their inability to burn fatty acids and produce heat. Sounds bad, and it is: This collapse, the researchers report, can have far-reaching effects on the development of metabolic conditions, such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Or, as one researcher put it: “In addition to the expansion of white fat cells, our study shows that overeating causes brown fat cells to get locked into a death spiral.”
Could be that some ancient instinct is telling us to store up calories for the cold dark days ahead. Could be we just like to eat rich food when we’re bummed out. Researchers at the University of Miami aren’t sure about either of those theories, but they are convinced that bad news makes us want more calories. A news release from the Association for Psychological Science reports that researchers invited study subjects to join in a taste test for a new kind of M&M. Half the participants were given a bowl of the new candy and were told that the secret ingredient was a new, high-calorie chocolate. The other half of the participants also received a bowl of M&Ms but were told the new chocolate was low-calorie. In fact, there was no difference in the M&Ms, and the sneaky researchers were actually measuring how much participants consumed after they were exposed to posters containing either neutral sentences or sentences related to struggle and adversity. Here’s what they found: Those who were subconsciously primed to think about struggle and adversity ate closer to 70 percent more of the “higher-calorie” candy vs. the “lower-calorie” option, while those primed with neutral words did not significantly differ in the amount of M&M’s consumed.
Of course, it could be that diners simply can’t find their forks, but researchers at Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab are attributing their latest finding to mood, not eyesight. The professors report that after a recent makeover of a fast-food restaurant, softer music and lighting led diners to eat 175 fewer calories and enjoy it more. A Cornell news release reports that, curiously, the lighting and music didn’t change what people ordered, but it did compel them to eat 18 percent less of it— 775 calories instead of 949. Find a pdf of the study here.
It’s true. Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine have found that people who restrict their caloric intake have hearts that function like those in people 20 years younger. A Wash U news release reports that the researchers measured heart rate variability, one measure of a heart’s health, and one that declines as we age, in 22 practitioners of calorie restriction, who ate healthy diets but consumed 30 percent fewer calories than normal for an average of seven years. Their average age was just over 51. For comparison purposes, researchers also studied 20 other people of about the same age who ate standard Western diets. Heart rates were significantly lower in the calorie restricted group, and their heart rate variability was significantly higher. “This is really striking because in studying changes in heart rate variability, we are looking at a measurement that tells us a lot about the way the autonomic nervous system affects the heart,” says Luigi Fontana, MD, PhD, the study’s senior author. “And that system is involved not only in heart function, but in digestion, breathing rate and many other involuntary actions. We would hypothesize that better heart rate variability may be a sign that all these other functions are working better, too.” Read more from Wash U. Read a summary of the study here.
Want to get serious about cutting the sales of high-calorie sodas? Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health did, and they had an idea. A Johns Hopkins news release reports that the researchers posted the calorie information about a bottle of soda in three different forms at four corner stores in Baltimore. One notice read: “Did you know that a bottle of soda or fruit juice has about 250 calories?” Another read: “Did you know that a bottle of soda or fruit juice has about 10 percent of your daily calories?” And the third read: “Did you know that working off a bottle of soda or fruit juice takes about 50 minutes of running?” When the researchers looked that the data for 1,600 beverage sales, including 400 during a baseline period and 400 for each of the 3 caloric-condition interventions, they found that posting any calorie information reduced the odds of selling the beverage by 40 percent. They also found that the most effective posting mentioned the physical activity needed to work off the calories. That reduced the likelihood of sales by 50 percent. Read more from Johns Hopkins.