The Science of Self-Talk


Young Girl Playing By HerselfBack several months ago, we did a blog post on the power of self-talk and shared some tips for how to do it “well.”  Why does self-talk work?  Is it just that having your own internal cheerleader boosts your confidence and improves your mood?  Well, preliminary research into the brain science suggests that self-talk actually affects how you view yourself and therefore can impact your feelings AND behaviors.

In October, NPR’s Morning Edition aired a story on the science of self-talk.  They described a 2013 study where women who had been diagnosed with anorexia were asked to walk through a doorway; to do so, the women turned sideways and squeezed through even when there was physically plenty of space.  These women’s brains portrayed an unrealistic representation of their actual bodies.

So, in therapy, the approach for treating these women might be to get at their internal dialogue- to remove ‘negative or pejorative terms’ from their self-talk.  According to the NPR report, “The underlying notion is that it’s not enough for a patient to lose physical weight — or gain it, as some women need to — if she doesn’t also change the way her body looks in her mind’s eye.”

Dr. Branch Coslett, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania, plans to study how people with poor body image get such an unrealistic impression of their physical bodies.  Preliminarily, Dr. Coslett thinks that “self-talk probably does shape the physiology of perception, given that other sensory perceptions — the intensity of pain, for example, or whether a certain taste is pleasing or foul, or even what we see — can be strongly influenced by opinions, assumptions, cultural biases and blind spots.”  So, self-talk is kind of like brain “remodeling.”

The most effective self-talk?  The kind where you think and talk about yourself in third person.  Use your own name to offer advice and to give a pep talk.  It’s all because of that phenomenon where we tend to be kinder to other people than we are to ourselves.  Click here for more tips on effective self-talk.

Click to hear or read the NPR story “Why Saying is Believing- The Science of Self-Talk.”

-Katie Huffman

A Spoonful of Sugar…Not So Nice After All


Sugar has many aliases and, according to Prevention magazine, precisely 57 different names. Nowadays, sugar is ubiquitous and permeates much of our food supply, even in places you might least expect, like ketchup and barbecue sauce.

So where did sugar originate? Sugar cane was initially grown about 10,000Sugar Table years ago on the island of New Guinea where people picked and ate it raw. By AD 500, sugar was powdered in India and used as a treatment for various ailments, but sugar refinement was a covert process that eventually spread to Persia. The Arabs were the first to turn sugar production into an industry after Arab armies conquered Persia and marched away with sugar’s potent secrets.

By the time cane sugar reached the West (roughly 600 years ago), it was classified as a spice and purchased by European royalty, the only ones with the means to pay the exorbitant prices. Two hundred years later, slave labor on sugar cane plantations made it possible for the working class to buy sugar. The Industrial Revolution made sugar accessible to everyone and manufacturers now refine raw sugar into the white crystals available in our grocery stores.

How much sugar do we really consume? Below are some astounding statistics and, just to provide some context, one 12-ounce can of Coke has 10 teaspoons of sugar:

  • In 1822, Americans consumed approximately 1.8 teaspoons per day
  • By 2012, each American consumed 30.6 teaspoons per day, which equates to almost 3 ½ cans of soda
  • As of 2012, the average American child consumed a whopping 32 teaspoons per day, or almost 3/4 of a cup

Why do we want sugar? Essentially, sugar in the bloodstream “stimulates the same pleasure centers of the brain that respond to heroin and cocaine… In this sense, it is literally an addictive drug.” (National Geographic)

Several prominent scientists suspected that sugar might cause diabetes as early as the 1920s, but it wasn’t until 1972 that John Yudkin, a British physiologist and nutritionist, proclaimed the evils of sugar in a book entitled Pure, White and Deadly, which was written to send the message that overconsumption of sugar was leading to many diseases, including heart disease, liver disease, and some cancers. The book was based on a series of studies during the 1960s showing that high amounts of dietary sugar resulted in increased amounts of fat and insulin in blood, raising the riSugar Picsk for heart disease and diabetes. However, Yudkin’s message was overshadowed by Ancel Keys (click here to read the recent saturated fat blog for more on Keys) and other scientists who preached the theory that saturated fats caused heart disease and obesity.

Richard Johnson, MD, a nephrologist the University of Colorado in Denver, says that “every time I study an illness and trace a path to the first cause, I find my way back to sugar.” Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatrician and endocrinologist at the University of California at San Francisco, has proclaimed that the “food industry has contaminated the food supply with added sugar” that has become a poison.

– Holly Hough, PhD

References: Prevention; Forbes; Mind Body Nutrition; National Geographic; The New York Times (February, 2014); The New York Times (April, 2011); Mother Jones; The Huffington Post

Image by Uwe Hermann, via CC

Click to read Holly’s post, Saturated Fats: Friend or Foe?

Saturated Fats: Friend or Foe?


For decades, we have been advised to steer clear of saturated fats. Several research papers published in the early 1950s implicated dietary fat as a key player in the development of heart disease. By 1961, the American Heart Association (AHA) published dietary guidelines that included reduction of saturated fats and in 1982, the Nutrition Committee of the AHA recommended no more than 10% of daily calories from fat.

So what are saturated fats? They are usually solid at room temperature and found in the foods we tend to like the most, that is, meat, cheese, ice cream, butter, and other dairyMeat Pic products. A few plant-based oils, such as coconut and palm oils, also contain saturated fats.

Scientists have recently revisited the role of saturated fats in cardiovascular disease and, as it turns out, the early studies may have been wrong. Authors of one paper published in 2010 and another in early 2014 analyzed data from a number of previous studies. The authors indicate that there is no relationship between dietary saturated fat and heart disease risk and, furthermore, the evidence does not support our current dietary guidelines that encourage “low consumption of saturated fats.” In fact, authors of a separate study found that a “low-carbohydrate diet was more effective for weight loss and cardiovascular risk reduction than a low-fat diet.”

Nina Teicholz, an investigative journalist, recently authored a book entitled The Big Fat Surprise (released in March of 2014) that corroborates the recent findings regarding saturated fats. Ms. Teicholz spent eight years sifting through previous research on the connection between heart disease and saturated fats. According to her, the research that was the basis for our current dietary guidelines was severely flawed.

The primary author, Ancel Keys, was a physiologist at the University of Minnesota in the 1950s. The story goes that Keys became interested in heart disease when he observed that American businessmen were experiencing high rates of heart attacks, Europeans had lower death rates from coronary heart disease when food supplies were low following World War II, and then-President Eisenhower himself had a heart attack, bringing cardiovascular disease to the medical forefront. Following a series of smaller studies, Keys developed his theory that fat, particularly saturated fat, caused heart disease, which came to be known as the diet-heart hypothesis.

In 1953, Keys published a very influential paper where he purported a “remarkable relationship” between fat and heart disease.  He presented data from the United States, Canada, Australia, England and Wales, Italy, and Japan supporting his hypothesis that consumption of fat causes heart disease.  Several years later, Jacob Yerushalmy, a biostatistician at the University of California at Berkeley, noted in a separate paper that, although the countries Keys selected supported the diet-heart hypothesis, data were available for 22 countries.  As it turned out, when data from all countries were analyzed, the causal relationship between dietary fat and heart disease disappeared.

Keys launched what came to be known as the ‘Seven Countries’ study in 1958.  He collected data on dietary habits and heart attack rates in the United States, the Netherlands, Finland, Yugoslavia, Italy, Greece, and Japan.  As a result, Keys reported that greater consumption of animal fat led to a higher rate of heart attacks. There were a few problems with his data, however.  Keys visited Greece during Lent when people abstain from eating meat, which would have skewed his data.  Additionally, the correlation between animal fat and heart attacks was not observed in Finland, Greece, and Yugoslavia.  Keys also intentionally left out countries such as Holland and Norway where residents eat a lot of fat but experience little heart disease.

In spite of the flaws, Keys’ research received a great deal of media attention and he ultimately persuaded both the AHA and the U.S. government that saturated fats Cheese Picwere the bad boys that caused not only heart disease but played a major role in the development of obesity and cancer as well. What followed are the national dietary guidelines that are still accepted today.

Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, at the Harvard School of Public Health, is one of many researchers who now believe that our current dietary guidelines need to be revisited. He says that “we can’t judge the healthfulness of a food [only] by how many grams of saturated fat it has.” Other experts aren’t buying the new findings. Walter Willett, MD, Chair of Nutrition and Mozaffarian’s colleague at the Harvard School of Public Health, says the conclusions of recent studies should be disregarded.

What does all of this mean for us? It is unknown when or if the current dietary guidelines will change and it will take more research and discussion to alter a long-held belief. If you have questions regarding these new findings and wish to revisit your own nutritional habits, please to talk to your doctor and/or a dietitian.

– Holly Hough, PhD

Please consult with your doctor before making any dietary changes.

References: American Heart Association; The Journal of Nutrition; Annals of Internal Medicine; American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; British Columbia Medical Journal; WebMD; Dr. Frank Lipman: Interview with Nina Teicholz; NBC News

Images by Flicker users Yamashita Yohel and Anne Hornyak, via CC

Click to read Holly’s post, A Spoonful of Sugar…Not So Nice After All

What’s the Lowdown on Eggs?


Are eggs making a comeback? For decades, we have been advised to limit egg consumption to reduce our risk of developing heart disease in spite of the fact that eggs contain beneficial substances like protein, Vitamins A and D, calcium, and choline (important for brain funEgg Picction). Eggs have gotten a bad rap, probably because just one yolk contains 187 mg of cholesterol, which is 62% of the recommended daily intake. While it is true that eggs are high in cholesterol, there is now solid research that shows no connection between eating eggs and heart disease.

For example, participants in the Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial that had a blood cholesterol level lower than 200 mg/dL ate more eggs than those whose cholesterol was greater than 220. In a separate study, individuals who ate two eggs per day for six weeks experienced no change in total or LDL cholesterol, or ‘bad cholesterol’.

The truth is, cholesterol is in every cell of the human body and is used to make hormones like testosterone and estrogen. The liver actually produces cholesterol and makes all the cholesterol your body naturally needs. There is no dietary requirement for more; however, when we eat foods high in cholesterol, the liver produces less of this natural cholesterol. So what foods are high in cholesterol?  Usually those foods that are also high in saturated fat, like animal products.  Since the American diet typically includes a lot of animal products, we consume quite a bit of cholesterol as a result.

Alice Lichtenstein, a professor of nutrition science at Tufts University, says that the major determinant of LDL (‘bad cholesterol’) levels is saturated fat and lowering saturated fat in the diet subsequently lowers LDL cholesterol.  While eggs are indeed high in cholesterol, they are low in saturated fat, which for many years has been accepted as the primary culprit in raising the risk for heart disease.  New evidence is surfacing, however, that shows no relationship between saturated fat and heart disease risk, a revelation contrary to long-held beliefs. Cholesterol Table1

So…based on what what we do know, how many eggs can you eat? Most experts agree that one egg per day is fine. The American Heart Association (AHA) no longer limits the number of eggs you can eat, but instead recommends limiting cholesterol intake to 300mg daily. People with diabetes who eat eggs may be at increased risk for heart disease, so if you have diabetes or very high levels of total and LDL cholesterol due to a genetic disorder, experts say it is best to limit your egg consumption to three yolks per week.

Perhaps it’s time to reevaluate eggs – they may be an egg-cellent choice after all!

– Holly Hough, PhD

Please consult with your doctor if you have concerns about your cholesterol or before making any dietary changes.

References: Journal of the American Medical Association; American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; The Boston Globe; Harvard School of Public Health: The Nutrition Source; Annals of Internal Medicine

Image by Flickr user Bryan Jones, via CC

To Be or Not To Be Gluten-Free #4


This is the fourth and final post in a series on gluten and gluten-free eating.  Click to read the first, second, and third installments.

The Final Verdict: If You can Tolerate Gluten, Should You go Gluten-Free?

More than half of gluten-free consumers don’t have a sensitivity to gluten and many are self-diagnosing, believing that gluten-free products will help them lose weight or feel better, even if they don’t experience digestive distress after eating wheat.

Do gluten-free diets lead to weight loss? Most experts say no. When manufacturers eliminate gluten from food, whBread Piceat flour is exchanged for a different type of flour, such as rice or bean. Gluten adds texture, but when that is removed, corn starch or xantham gum are added to give bread some shape. Gluten-free bread, for example, is often low in nutrients and supplemented with sugar and fat to enhance taste and softness.

Several prominent individuals have written and/or spoken extensively about issues surrounding wheat and gluten. Below are a few varied and sometimes conflicting viewpoints:

  • Mark Hyman, MD, author of The Blood Sugar Solution, says that wheat (not just gluten) not only triggers weight gain but leads to the development of diabetes, heart disease, depression, and many other illnesses. He says that modern wheat contains a “Super Starch”, or amylopectin A, that is used to make fluffy breads, such as Cinnabons. What’s the big deal? “Two slices of whole wheat bread raise your blood sugar more than two tablespoons of table sugar,” which increases your risk of diabetes.
  • Dr. Hyman and Dr. William Davis, authors of Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health, agree that wheat is addictive. Wheat proteins are digested into smaller proteins called ‘exorphins’, which “are like the endorphins you get from a runner’s high and bind to the opioid receptors in the brain, making you high and addicted”. (It should be noted here that wheat is not unique in this respect – foods such as milk, rice, and corn also contain exorphins.)
  • Daniel Leffler, MD, Director of Clinical Research at the Celiac Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, says “the average American diet is deficient in fiber” and if whole wheat is removed from our diet, the problem worsens. Other grains such as quinoa or brown rice can provide us with the necessary fiber, but preparation of these grains often requires more effort.
  • Alessio Fasano, MD, Director at the University of Maryland’s Center for Celiac Research, says that we do not have the enzymes to properly digest gluten. Dr. Fasano believes that gluten triggers an immune response in everyone, which can lead to autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Katherine Tallmadge, RD, author of Diet Simple, says that if yoVitamin Picu don’t have celiac disease, don’t go for gluten-free foods because you will be missing out on fiber, iron, folate, niacin, calcium, and Vitamin B12, among vitamins.
  • Donna Gates, creator of the Body Ecology Program for individuals with autism, advocates eliminating gluten from the diet as a means of treating autism.  Some experts theorize that children with autism may have an allergy to foods with gluten or casein (found in milk and dairy products).

All of these views carry more significance if you think about how much wheat most Americans eat. Many eat a bagel or toast for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and bread or pasta (or both) for dinner. If you snack on cookies, cakes, or crackers in between meals, that’s a lot of wheat consumed in one day.

Keep in mind that gluten-free products such as cookies and cakes are still processed foods and, thus, higher in calories. Additional sugar in gluten-free bread and other products also means raising blood sugar and increasing the risk of diabetes. Processing and added sugar also result in a pricier product. It’s easy to pay more for something that isn’t very healthy, even if it’s gluten-free.

So now that you have the rundown on the major issues surrounding wheat and gluten…what’s a girl (or guy) to do? The bottom line is that you need to decide for yourself. If you want to experiment with eating healthier wheat and bake your own bread without additives, check your local area for farms that grow and grind organic wheat. Maybe the answer for you is to simply cut back on the amount of wheat you eat, but if you feel strongly about eliminating wheat and/or gluten from your diet, please talk to your doctor. It is also important to see a knowledgeable dietitian who can help you eat a balanced diet that has the fiber, vitamins, and minerals your body requires.

– Holly Hough, PhD

References: CBS News; Mail Online (the website for The Daily Mail, a UK newspaper); The Huffington Post; Authority Nutrition; Harvard Health Blog; Body Ecology; The Curious Coconut; US National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health; Kitchen Stewardship; Foundation for Alternative and Integrative Medicine; Scientific American; WebMD; Autism Speaks

Images by Flickr users elana’s pantry and Colin Dunn, via CC

To Be or Not to Be Gluten-Free #3


This is the third post in a series on gluten and gluten-free eating.  Click to read the first and second installments.

What Causes Celiac Disease and is Genetically Modified Wheat to Blame?

So what really causes celiac disease? Some argue that, after cross-breeding wheat, the gluten content increased and subsequently triggered an increase in gluten intolerance. Dr. Donald Kasarda, who authored a 2013 report on gluten content in wheat during the 20th century, concluded that this is not the case and says that, instead, Americans are simply eating more wheat and processed foods, such as ketchup and mustard, where gluten is typically added as a thickener.  William Davis, MD, a cardiologist and author of Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health, argues that significant changes in the protein structure of the wheat itself are responsible.

There is also a faction of people who believe that this increase is primarily due to genetically modified, or GM, wheat, which is not the same as the cross-bred variety of wheat we currently consume. How is genetic modification different from hybridization? ‘Hybrid’ means cross-breeding from two parent plants. Essentially, plText Box GF Blogant breeders steer the process of crossing two varieties in the field using low-tech methods.

Genetic modification refers to plants that have been altered in the laboratory using complex technology to enhance desired traits, such as resistance to pesticides.  GM plants can include genes from several species, something that rarely, if ever, occurs in nature. Corn and soybeans, two of the most widely grown GM crops in the U.S., are approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and were introduced in the ‘90s by Monsanto, one of the biggest agricultural companies in the world.

For our purpose, though, the bottom line is that GM wheat is not currently on the market and, therefore, cannot be responsible for the increased incidence of gluten intolerance.  Will GM wheat ever be approved by the USDA? Monsanto tested GM wheat across the U.S. for several years and, in 2002, submitted an application to the USDA for approval. Two years later, the company withdrew the application because farmers feared that wheat grown from GM seeds would not be purchased by large markets in Europe and Asia.

As fate would have it, American wheat exports have decreased by approximately 85% due to GM contamination. On May 29th of 2013, the USDA announced publicly that genetically engineered wheat was found growing on a farm in Oregon.  Subsequently, South Korea and Japan, the biggest buyer of U.S. wheat behind Mexico, cancelled their contracts to purchase wheat.  The European Union also began testing shipments of U.S. wheat and blocked those containing GM wheat.

It is also notable that the type of seeds found on the Oregonian farm were Roundup Ready, which means they are genetically modified to be resistant to Roundup (which you may use to kill weeds in your yard). Plants grown from Roundup Ready seeds will grow even when sprayed with Ro12798763845_3204f39912_oundup and the surrounding weeds die.  Recently, however, ‘superweeds’ have sprouted in farmers’ fields that are resistant to Roundup and Dow AgroSciences is now testing seeds that are resistant to a stronger pesticide, 2,4-D (a component of Agent Orange that was used in the Vietnam war).

What does all of this mean for us? It’s difficult to say and no one really knows for sure, but are GM foods in your grocery store? You bet. Some estimate that more than 70% of processed foods, such as cookies and cereals, contain GM ingredients. Fresh fruits and veggies are GM-free as are meat, fish, and poultry, however, feed for livestock and fish is derived from GM corn and alfalfa.

Please consult your doctor if you suspect that you have celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or a wheat allergy, or before making significant changes to your diet.

UP NEXT – Part 4 – The Final Verdict: If You Can Tolerate Gluten, Should You Go Gluten-Free?

– Holly J. Hough, PhD

ReferencesU.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health; United States Department of Agriculture; Rodale News; Dr. William Davis, Wheat Belly Blog; Mother Earth News (Hybrid Seeds vs GMOs); The Huffington Post (Top 7 Genetically Modified Crops); GMO Compass; Genetic Literacy Project; Scientific American; The New York Times (Modified Wheat in Oregon); Reuters; Collective Evolution; The New York Times (As Patent Ends, A Seed’s Use Will Survive); The Huffington Post (USDA May Deregulate Corn and Soybean Seeds); Mother Jones (5 Surprising Genetically Modified Foods)

Image by SARE Outreach, via CC


To Be or Not To Be Gluten-Free #2


I had no idea that wheat was such a controversial topic until I began doing research in preparation for writing this blog series. After much reading and sifting through articles, I believe that, to really get to the heart of whether a gluten-free diet is appropriate for those of us that don’t have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, the discussion must become global and include some history as well as a few details on farming, biotechnology, and economic trading. There is a multitude of information on the Internet and, in my opinion, more to this issue than simply considering whether to include gluten in your diet. I have done my best to present all sides (in the following three parts) and provide, well, food for thought. Read the first part of the series here.

Part 2 – Your Wheat is Not Your Grandmother’s Wheat

You may be surpWheat Pic1rised to know that other parts of the world are way ahead of the U.S. when it comes to gluten-free eating. Argentina recently initiated a national program for the detection and control of celiac disease and, for residents, health insurance companies “must cover the cost of alternative flours and gluten-free mixes” for celiac patients.  Both Irish and Canadian citizens receive tax deductions for the extra cost of gluten-free foods and in the United Kingdom, people with celiac receive gluten-free products as part of their health plan benefits.  In Italy, all children are tested for celiac disease by age six and any Italian over age ten diagnosed with celiac receives a monthly stipend of 140 euros for gluten-free foods.

Even though celiac disease has been around for centuries, it was once considered very rare in the U.S. Joseph Murray, MD, a gastroenterologist at Mayo Clinic, saw frequent cases of celiac disease as a medical student in Ireland during the 1970s. When he moved to the U.S. in 1988, Dr. Murray saw one patient per year with gluten intolerance and by 1997, his celiac cases numbered 100 annually. He decided to investigate the phenomenon and compared celiac incidence in blood samples taken from 50 Air Force recruits in the 1950s with blood taken from young men living in Minnesota. The present-day men were 4.5 times more likely to have celiac disease, which means something in the environment has changed.

Enter wheat. No one really knows why celiac disease is affecting more people, but many believe that the transformation of wheat is to blame. Wheat products sold today are very different than wheat that was consumed in the early 20th century all the way back to Biblical times and, indeed, it seems that the incidence of celiac disease increased at about the same time as the changes in wheat.

So how has wheat transformed? And why? In the 1950s, Norman Borlaug, an American biologist, took an agricultural research position in Mexico and cross-bred wheat that resulted in high-yield, disease-resistant varieties that were cheaper to grow. By 1963, Mexico not only fed its own growing population but was also exporting wheat. At this time, large numbers of people were starving in both India and Pakistan; however, by 1970, thanks to the new cross-bred variety, wheat yields nearly doubled in these countries. Borlaug also gave China and parts of South America the ability to feed their burgeoning populations and is often credited with saving hundreds of millions people across the globe from starvation. (He is one of three Americans who won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Congressional Gold Medal.)

Plant researchers have discovered, however, that Borlaug’s wheat had fewer nutrients than before and became a refined wheat that raised blood sugar leOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAvels very quickly. Additionally, bread preparation is not at all similar to what it was at the turn of the century. Grains “…were soaked, sprouted, and fermented, and bread was baked using a slow-rise yeast.” Today, manufacturers bleach flour with agents like benzoyl peroxide (typically used to treat acne) and bake bread with quick-rise yeast, which results in bread with little nutritional value.

It turns out that Grandma’s bread was baked with more than love!

Please consult your doctor if you suspect that you have celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or a wheat allergy, or before making significant changes to your diet.

UP NEXT – Part 3 – What Really Causes Celiac Disease and is Genetically Modified Wheat to Blame?

– Holly Hough, PhD

References: Eating Well; Celiac Disease Foundation; Mayo Clinic; Celebrating 100 Years of Norman Borlaug; The Washington Times; Authority Nutrition; Discovery News

Images from Flickr users Dace Kirspile and kochtopf, via CC

To Be or Not to Be Gluten-Free #1


If you have had a Spirited Life/CHI health screening in the past year, you have likely interacted with me at some point. In both the spring and fall of 2013, I counseled screening participants on their results at many churches across the state and, as of April of this year, I am now coordinating the screenings. The blog below is the first in a series of nutritional topics that arose during my discussions with many of you. Thus, I am responding to your questions. Upcoming topics include the lowdown on eggs, sorting through sweeteners and sugars, and the perils of trans fats. Stay tuned!

Part I – What is Gluten and How Can it Affect Me?

Gluten-free eating has become very trendy and the market for gluten-free products is booming. Many grocery stores now stock gluten-free products, some restaurants provide gluten-free items in addition to their standard fare, and celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Jenny McCarthy, and Oprah Winfrey have touted the benefits of gluten-less diets. However, is eliminating gluten from your diet the way to go? If you have celiac disease, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. If you are not gluten sensitive, the answer may not be straightforward and information populating the Internet can be confusing. Thus, let’s start with what is clear-cut.

What is gluten? Gluten is a protein found in wheat and other grains, such as rye and barley, which gives bread its sponge-like Wheat Pic3texture. When individuals with celiac disease ingest gluten, the immune system attacks the small intestine. Over time, the small intestine loses its ability to absorb nutrients, such as calcium and iron, and severe nutritional deficiencies can develop. Even small amounts of gluten can cause a lot of damage and the only treatment is a strict gluten-free diet.

Common symptoms of celiac disease include diarrhea and weight loss, although many people experience little, if any, digestive distress. Some people have a sensitivity to gluten without having celiac disease, which means that they cannot metabolize gluten, and may have symptoms as severe as those of celiac disease. Still others have a wheat allergy, which is one of the most common allergies in the United States. Simply inhaling wheat flour can trigger an allergic reaction for some.

People with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity must eat a gluten-free diet to feel better. Many foods are naturally gluten-free, such as fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry, seafood, beans, legumes, nuts, and dairy products. A number of grains like rice, corn, potatoes, quinoa, and nut flours are also gluten-free.

While many commercial products are labeled ‘gluten-free,’ some are not. However, as of August 5th, 2014, all foods labeled gluten-free must meet the requirements of gluten-free labeling (you can read more here at the Food and Drug Administration website). It is important to read labels and remember that ‘wheat-free’ does not necessarily mean ‘gluten-free’. Soups and sauces, for example, are one of the largest sources of gluten since many manufacturers use gluten as a thickener. (For a complete listing of foods that comprise a gluten-free diet, please visit the Celiac Disease Foundation website here.)

Individuals with a wheat allergy should, of course, avoid foods that contain wheat. In addition to gluten, wheat contains other proteins that include albumin, globulin, and gliadin. Most people are allergic to only one of these. Again, it is extremely important to read labels and, in this case, ‘gluten-free’ does not necessarily mean ‘wheat-free’. In Europe, for example, foods may be labeled gluten-free but contain wheat starch, the powder remaining after gluten removal from wheat flour. Wheat starch is often used as a thickening agent in gravies and processed foods. Some unexpected sources of wheat may be ice cream, potato chips, hot dogs, candy, salad dressings, soy sauce, marinara sauce, and beer. (For more information on wheat allergy and foods to avoid, visit the Food Allergy Research and Education website here.)

Please consult with your doctor if you suspect that you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, or before making any dietary changes.

UP NEXT – Part 2 – Your Wheat is Not Your Grandmother’s Wheat

-Holly Hough, PhD

References:  Providence Health and Services; Mayo Clinic: Symptoms; Mayo Clinic: Wheat Allergy; Internet Symposium on Food Allergens: Identification of Wheat Allergens; Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: Wheat Allergy; CeliAct: Is Modified Food Starch Safe for Celiacs?

Image from Flickr user Martin LaBar, via CC

Research briefs


Below are summaries of 3 recent research studies that have practical implications for taking care of your health.

Dental hygiene and your heart
Healthy gums make healthy hearts.  Researchers from Columbia University have shown toothbrush-with-toothpaste-2-by-gustavorezendethat improving gum health can slow the progression of atherosclerosis, the narrowing of arteries which is associated with heart disease and strokes.   It’s been widely accepted that the bacteria responsible for producing periodontal disease also contribute to atherosclerosis; the good news from this study is that improving gum health can actually reverse the progression of heart disease.  To reduce harmful bacteria in your mouth, it is recommended you brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss daily in addition to making regular visits to a dentist.  Read more: Dr. Weil’s Daily Health Tips or Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

Improving HDL effectiveness with weight training
WhileTwoDumbbells we’ve heard that high levels of HDL (good cholesterol) can protect against heart disease, new research is showing that how well the HDL functions is even more important.  UCLA researchers looked at the effects of weight training on HDL effectiveness, and they found that regular weight training contributed to better-functioning HDL, regardless of participants’ overall weight (overweight participants’ HDL was just as effective as lean participants’).  Dr. Andrew Weil, founder of the integrative medicine movement, says, “This suggests that physical fitness may be the best measure of healthy HDL function and, by extension, the risk of heart disease.”  Participants in this study engaged in resistance training 4 days a week.  Read more: Dr. Weil’s Daily Health Tips or Science Daily.

Mindfulness exercises can reduce blood pressure
About 30% of adult Americans have prehypertension, a condition where their blood Silhouette_yogapressure is higher than normal but doesn’t yet require medication management.  In a study out of Kent State University, researchers looked at the effect of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) training on prehypertension.  Results showed that participants who participated in an 8-week series of three types of MBSR- yoga, body scan exercises, and sitting meditation– had statistically significant lower blood pressure readings at the end (there was a decrease in both the systolic and diastolic readings).  Such an improvement in blood pressure for prehypertension patients could mean delaying or even preventing the need for medications as well as a reduction in risk of heart attacks and strokes.  Read more: Dr. Weil’s Daily Health Tips or Medical News Today.

-Katie Huffman, inspired by Dr. Weil’s Daily Health Tips blog

First image courtesy of OpenClipArt user Gustavaorezende; second and third images courtesy of wikipedia; all via CreativeCommons.

Is ‘Just Do It’ Bad Advice?


clergy-at-spirited-life-workshopClergy generally have very few opportunities to focus on their own health and well-being, to take time away to reflect on how they are doing, or to simply participate in a worship service without leading it. But in each of the past three years, the Duke Clergy Health Initiative has given them that opportunity. From January to March we have hosted a series of three-day workshops across North Carolina for clergy entering our Spirited Life program.

Spirited Life workshops serve a dual purpose: to introduce clergy to the staff and the resources they will have access to over the coming two years of the program, and to give pastors the space to reflect on the current state of their health and the vision they have for it.

We recognize that pastors come to this gathering in different states of readiness for change – some arrive raring to go; others are more reticent. And even those who have identified a facet of their health that they wish to address may encounter challenges along the way. Nike might tell us to “JUST DO IT,” but making changes and sticking to them is much harder. So early on in the program, we share with clergy a model that James O. Prochaska of the University of Rhode Island and his colleagues developed to better understand how the process of change works.

Prochaska concluded that behavior change is something that happens in stages, and that it has an upwardly spiraling effect. The following graphic illustrates the various stages and how movement between those stages takes place.

  1. Pre-contemplation – No intention of changing behavior
  2. Contemplation – Aware that a problem exists, but no commitment to action
  3. Preparation – Intent upon taking action
  4. Action – Active modification of behavior
  5. Maintenance – Sustained change: new behavior replaces old; generally recognized as a habit sustained for six months or more
  6. Relapse – Fall back into old patterns of behavior

What this model tells us is that relapse – falling away from one’s goals – is an expected part of the change cycle. It is not synonymous with failure, provided we use the experience as an opportunity to learn. By examining the situation – What triggered the relapse? What was going well beforehand? What caused me to break from that practice? – we become better prepared to resist the same temptations and distractions the next time we arrive at a place of sustained behavior change. Moreover, we don’t return to point zero after a relapse. The awareness of the goal already exists; therefore, we start further along the change cycle, with the benefit of additional strength and wisdom.

Equally important: it’s not necessary to tackle every goal at once. Someone who is actively engaging in more physical activity (Action Stage) may only be thinking about seeking help for depression (Contemplation Stage). Spirited Life provides clergy with a safe space to air the challenges they face at each stage of the process, and offers staff who are trained to listen and encourage. To learn more, visit our website.

— Kate Rugani

Image by Caren Swanson; stages of change diagram courtesy of