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woman-cookingFast food commercials make dinner seem quick and easy—but is it worth the impact to your health and your waistline? Recent studies have found that although portion sizes have stopped growing in the last decade or two, the amount of calories, saturated fat and sodium served at the drive-thru is still far too high, contributing to a nationwide increase in obesity and chronic disease. In 2015, make it your goal to curb the fast food and cook more meals at home.

A new study out of Johns Hopkins University examined the eating habits of roughly 9,000 U.S. adults and found that those who prepare and eat the majority of their meals at home consume fewer calories, unhealthy fats and carbohydrates—not to mention less sugar—than those who opt for fast food.

The study, published this month in the journal Public Health Nutrition, was led by Julia Wolfson, a trained chef and fellow at the university’s Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for a Livable Future. While many people think cooking at home is too expensive or time consuming, says Wolfson, she stresses it is often easier than one might think. Here are a few simple tips to help you get started:

  • Plan ahead! Choose recipes, make a list and shop over the weekend to make weeknight meal prep faster and simpler. You can also chop veggies in advance, or prepare and freeze meals and individual portions.
  • Choose fewer processed foods, more real foods. Learn to shop the perimeter of the grocery store, where you will find fresh produce and healthy protein sources. Avoid the center aisles that contain pre-packaged, processed foods loaded with added sugar and carbs.
  • Take a beginner cooking class or go online. Classes are often offered through local schools and community centers, but the Internet is also a valuable resource for recipes, ideas and instruction. Just one video can transform dinner!
  • Get kids involved. Even the pickiest kids and teens will usually try something new if they are included in the process. Let them choose recipes, help with shopping and preparation, and even offer their own suggestions.

With better nutrition comes better health and weight management, and cooking at home allows us to make smarter choices about the foods we eat and the meals we prepare for our families. The more you cook at home, the simpler it will get, and the healthier you will feel in 2015!

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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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