A new rationale for breastfeeding – the benefits for the Mom!

Did you know that breastfeeding your child for 2 years can cut your risk for breast cancer in half! My latest blog for the American Society for Nutrition explores the maternal benefits of breastfeeding…check it out!


RFF#72 – The incidence of heart disease increases with increasing latitude

Here’s an interesting story explaining one reason why:

Consider bread…when consumed, the carbohydrate it contains eventually becomes glucose in your bloodstream. Your body absorbs the glucose with the help of insulin. Because white bread (as well as white rice, crackers, and other refined grain products) are highly processed and lack fiber, they can cause a spike in blood glucose, which stresses the body, and in the long-term can send you on the road towards diabetes, heart disease and even cancer. The interesting thing is, fat can decrease the size of the glucose spike…which is a good thing. But don’t go buttering your bread with the excuse that it will make the bread healthier, because the type of fat plays a crucial role.

For example, if you add butter to bread, you will experience a smaller spike in glucose (compared to bread sans butter). Even though this sounds like a good thing, there’s a catch…your body will still release a large amount of insulin, despite the smaller glucose spike. This is a problem. Reason being…in the long-term, your body will become insensitive to insulin (because insulin is getting released for no reason, the body simply stops paying attention to it). Insulin insensitivity eventually leads to diabetes and heart disease.

However, on the other hand, if you dip your bread in olive oil, you will get a smaller spike in glucose, alongside an appropriately attenuated amount of insulin. Thus, when fed olive oil, the body somehow adjusts the amount of insulin it releases, something it is unable to do when fed butter.This is just one of the reasons why the “olive oil people” of the Mediterranean tend to experience less heart disease than the “butter people” just North of them (or at least prior to the globalization of the food supply this was the case).

Olive trees near Agios Nikolaus, Greece

Olive trees near Agios Nikolaus, Greece

I learned about this fact from: Rasmussen et al. Differential effects of saturated and monounsaturated fat on blood glucose and insulin responses in subjects with non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. AJCN, 1996;63:249-253.

RFF#69 – Low-carb diets were first popularized in 1863

In 1863, an obese English undertaker named William Banting published a booklet called “Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public” where he described the benefits of a  low-carbohydrate diet.  He was 66 years old when he lost 46 pounds (originally weighting 202 pounds) on this diet, and wrote that “the great charms and comfort of the system are that its effects are palpable within a week of trial and creates a natural stimulus to persevere for a few weeks more”.

Coincidentally, William Banting is a distant relative of Frederick Banting, the co-discover of insulin. This is a strange coincidence because William Harvey (the doctor who told William Banting about the benefit of low carb diets), first learned about low-carb diets from a conference in Paris where they were promoted as being ideal for diabetes management. Oddly enough, Banting’s discovery of insulin would eventually eliminate the need for such diets for type I diabetics. Nevertheless, to this day, low-carb diets may be a strategic diet for some type II diabetics.

I learned about this fact from: Bravata et al. Efficacy and Safety of Low-Carbohydrate Diets A Systematic Review. JAMA 289(14); 2003.

RFF#31 – The glycemic index of pasta varies depending on the shape

First, for anyone doesn’t already know, glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how quickly a food is digested and absorbed.

Ideally you want a food to be:

1) slowly digested (so it stays in your stomach longer, keeping you full for longer), and

2) slowly absorbed (so all of its energy doesn’t rush into your bloodstream which causes a hormonal imbalance [too much insulin] and increases the likelihood that the energy will be stored as fat)

Therefore, foods with a low GI (think low=slow) are better than foods with a high GI.

So, which shape is best? Well, it all has to do with the density and surface area of the pasta. Meaning thick and dense pastas, like rotini and gemelli will have a lower GI compared to pastas with a large surface area, like orzo and fettuccine.

But, in addition to the shape, the way in which the pasta was cooked will also influence the GI. More on that in tomorrow’s post…

A selection of pasta at "Campo di Fiori" in Rome

A selection of pasta at “Campo di Fiori” in Rome