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March 2014

Full Issue (PDF)

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Rx for Combating Chronic Conditions: Exercise

A potentially life-saving prescription for fighting heart disease, diabetes and stroke could be as close as those walking shoes gathering dust in your closet. According to an unusual new study, the benefits of exercise in reducing mortality from those leading causes of death match or even exceed the effects of prescription drugs for the same conditions. Patients with heart disease who exercised, for instance, had the same odds of surviving the condition as those given medications such as statins or antiplatelet drugs.

New Questions About Benefits from Vitamin D Beyond Bones —Subscribers Only

If you’ve been popping vitamin D supplements for benefits beyond bone health—such as preventing heart disease, cancer or diabetes—it’s too soon to know if those pills are really doing you any good. That’s the lesson, experts say, from a sweeping new review of 290 observational studies and 172 randomized trials of vitamin D, chronic disease and mortality. Although vitamin D deficiency was associated with a variety of health problems in the observational studies, the trials in which participants were actually given extra vitamin D failed to prove a benefit.

Does Your Diet Deliver Too Much Phosphorus?

Phosphorus, a mineral found in foods such as meat and milk, is important for forming bones and teeth, making proteins for healthy cells, and transporting cellular energy. But too much of a good thing can be harmful among people with kidney disease, and a new study suggests excess phosphorus consumption is associated with increased mortality risk, even in people with normal kidney function.

Daily Handful of Nuts Linked to Lower Mortality Risk —Subscribers Only

Eating a daily handful of nuts—about one ounce or three tablespoons—could reduce your risk of dying from the most common causes of death. Results from the largest study of its kind, following nearly 119,000 men and women for up to 24 years, show that regular consumers of any type of nuts were less likely to die from heart disease, cancer and lung disease or from all causes than non-nut eaters. As frequency of nut consumption went up, mortality risk dropped.

Ask Tufts Experts

Q. I’ve read conflicting reports on the effects of alcohol on bones. Assuming one is drinking in moderation, is alcohol good or bad for bones?

Q. My physician tells me that I am pre-diabetic, so I am very careful about my sugar and carbohydrate intake. Do artificial sweeteners raise blood-sugar levels?

Q. Are there actually health benefits from drinking yerba maté tea? What is yerba maté, anyway?


FDA Extends Trans Fat Comment Deadline

Look for the next step in the FDA’s proposed crackdown on trans fats to come this spring, as the agency extended its comment period on the rule to March 8. Late last year, the FDA proposed revoking the fats’ status as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS), which would lead to a phase-out of trans fats in most food products.

Dietitians Predict Nutrition Trends

Look for more worries about wheat and increasing interest in ancient grains, kale, coconut oil and chia seeds as 2014 goes on. That’s the forecast from a survey of more than 500 registered dietitians conducted by Today’s Dietitian and Pollock Communications.

Fessing Up on Unsafe Food Handling

When it comes to safe food handling for parties and other gatherings, Americans’ motto seems to be: Do as I say, not as I do.

Food Companies Exceed Calorie-Cutting Goal

Since 2007, 16 of the nation’s leading food and beverage companies have cut 6.4 trillion calories out of the American diet—equivalent to 78 daily calories per person. That’s the conclusion of a report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which worked with the companies to help combat childhood obesity.

“Natural” Labeling for GMOs Puts FDA in Middle

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finds itself in the middle of the tussle over whether foods labeled as “natural” can contain genetically modified (GMO) ingredients. The Grocery Manufacturers Association is petitioning the agency to specifically authorize “natural” labeling on GMO products, such as those containing bioengineered corn, soy, canola or sugar. The trade association cited the proliferation of lawsuits challenging “natural” labeling, with 65 pending class-action cases across the country. At the same time, three federal judges presiding over such cases have asked the FDA to rule on whether GMO ingredients belong in “natural” foods.

Special Reports

The Truth About the War on Wheat —Subscribers Only

If you believe the bestseller lists, the biggest bad in the supermarket aisles is not fat or sodium or sugar but wheat. It’s not just the booming popularity of gluten-free products, which are important for the small percentage of people diagnosed with celiac disease but whose benefits for the general population are questionable. (For a full discussion of the pros and cons of gluten-free products, see our October 2013 Special Report.) Bestselling books have warned that wheat consumption is a key contributor to abdominal fat (“wheat belly”), as well as triggering diseases ranging from diabetes to autism, and that eating wheat is linked to Alzheimer’s, depression, headaches, epilepsy and ADHD.

Are You Really Benefiting from Your Multivitamins? —Subscribers Only

You’ve seen the TV commercials. A daily multivitamin “supports” heart and breast health, boosts your immune system and protects your eyes. A smiling couple feel pretty darned smart after learning that a study showing multivitamins reduce cancer risk used the very brand she’s been making him take.