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boy-eating-burgerAmericans love their junk food—from drive-thru double cheeseburgers and super-sized fries to the millions of sugary processed “food” items lining our grocery store shelves. But just how is that obsession affecting our health? And what can we do about it? Two new studies offer insight (and a little hope) into our love affair with unhealthy food.

Too Much Fast Food Causing Kids to Suffer in School
Researchers from Ohio State University recently looked at fast food consumption in fifth through eighth graders to determine whether or not an unhealthy diet affects academic achievement. After analyzing the records of nearly 12,000 school-age kids, they found that those who ate the most fast food (at least one meal daily) saw slower academic growth in key areas such as math, reading and science when compared with students who did not eat fast food.

Study authors speculate that children who eat fast food on a regular basis may not be getting the proper nutrients necessary for optimal cognitive development. They caution parents that obesity is not the only health issue we need to worry about when it comes to poor diet, and point out that previous studies have linked poor diet to impaired memory and learning skills.

Good News: Consumers Eating Fewer Processed Foods
On a more positive note, a new study out of the University of North Carolina shows U.S. consumers are buying fewer pre-packaged baked goods than ever before. After analyzing buying trends over a 7-year period ending in 2012, they found that sales of food items including cookies, cakes, doughnuts, pastries and other items high in sugar and unhealthy fats decreased by 24 percent. This is a significant drop, according to lead author Dr. Kevin Mathias, and a positive indication that American consumers may be paying more attention to the nutritional value of their food and its impact on their overall health.

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button-pantsOne holiday party too many and before you know it, things start to feel a little snug around your waistline. Sound familiar? This year, promise yourself you will beat the holiday bulge with three smart, simple habits that will help you stay satisfied, boost your metabolism and keep those unwanted pounds from sneaking up on you.

  1. Load Up on Protein to Curb Cravings
    Eating plenty of protein will help you stay satisfied throughout the day and reduce those sneaky holiday cravings. Aim for 12 portions of protein daily from sources such as poultry, meat and seafood as well as dairy, eggs, tofu, tempeh and nuts. And don’t forget breakfast! Researchers from the University of Missouri recently found that eating a high-protein breakfast helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels and control cravings (especially for sweets) later in the day. Higher amounts of protein were directly linked to fewer post-meal spikes in blood sugar and associated with healthy weight management and a reduced risk of developing diabetes.
  2. Get Plenty of Sleep to Boost Metabolism
    No matter how hectic your holiday schedule, sleep is something you simply can’t go without—especially if you want to avoid packing on the pounds! The connection between sleep and weight loss has to do with two important hormones: leptin (which tells the body you are full and it is time to stop eating) and ghrelin (which signals hunger). When you are sleep deprived, leptin levels decrease and ghrelin levels increase, causing you to eat more. Getting between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night can help maintain a healthy metabolism and promote successful weight management.
  3. Eat More Probiotic Foods to Support Weight Loss
    In addition to their role in supporting digestive and immune health, several recent studies have found a link between probiotic gut bacteria and weight loss. Basically, each of us has a unique balance of bacteria in the gut that either protects us and keeps us healthy or leaves us susceptible to disease. That same balance can either contribute to weight gain or to weight loss. When your gut bacteria are out of balance, you gain weight. Conversely, when you balance your gut by eating the right foods (and avoiding the wrong foods) you lose weight. Probiotics can be obtained through the diet by eating yogurt, kefir and other fermented foods.

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