Food News & Facts


by Alexandra Williams, MA

Is "Cutting Weight" Dangerous for Women?

Female athletes need time to recover from severely restricted dieting.

Fitness competitors work hard to be as fit and attractive as possible, which includes paying close attention to their food intake in the months leading up to a competition. Often this means following severely restricted diets with the intent to lose body fat, yet maintain muscle mass.

Recently, researchers in Finland set out to learn whether this type of diet has long-lasting negative effects on female fitness competitors. To do so, they followed 50 women in their mid-20s. Of these, 27 were female fitness-sport competitors dieting for a competition, and 23 acted as weight-stable controls. For 4 months, the 27 competitors reduced their carbohydrate intake while maintaining a high protein intake. They also added sessions of aerobic exercise and performed resistance training. The new regimen led to expected decreases in body weight (12%) and body fat (35–50%). Researchers found that it also resulted in a drop in serum (blood) levels of several hormones, including leptin, triiodothyronine (T3), testosterone and estradiol, as well as an increase in menstrual irregularities.

The intriguing aspect of the study is that most of these changes were reversed during a 3–4 month recovery period. During this time, the competitors increased their energy intake and decreased their aerobic exercise to prestudy levels, and body weight and hormones (except T3 and testosterone) returned to baseline. This news, reported in Frontiers in Physiology, may be welcome among female fitness competitors, but only further research will reveal if repeated bouts of this nature have any long-lasting negative effects [2016; 7, 689].


Some Healthy Folks Shun Foods With Health Claims

Think outside the box: Healthy package lingo isn’t a selling point for some young men.

When researchers from the Agrifood Research and Technology Centre of Aragon, Spain, wanted to study the effect of food labels’ health claims, they set up a mock supermarket and recruited 121 shoppers. These participants were instructed to choose from a variety of breakfast biscuits, including some with no healthy labeling on the packages, and others showing marketing messages such as "high in fiber" and "reduced saturated fat."

At first glance, it seemed that the shoppers preferred the biscuits with health claims. Yet when the researchers looked more closely at the data, a surprising correlation was discovered. Of the 121 shoppers, 26% were identified as "nutritional claim avoiders." Of even more interest, they shared many characteristics: They were mostly young, university-educated, healthy men who were not usually responsible for household food purchases. Researchers noted that members of this group also had few health problems, so they may not yet value healthy eating. For fitness professionals who work with clients in this demographic, it may be helpful to emphasize the link between eating healthfully today and staying healthy throughout a full lifespan. But until they’re "sold" on smarter selections, don’t let them take over the household grocery shopping [2017; Nutrients, 9 (2), 132].

Juicy Tips for Amping Up Plant Intake Wisely


"Eating a plant-heavy diet brings many benefits to the table," says Canada-based dietitian Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, whose article "Peak Season, Peak Performance" in this issue discusses many of the perks associated with easing up on animal-based foods. "But there are a few things you should keep in mind before dousing your morning cereal in almond milk or eating tempeh chili by the bowlful," he adds. Here are three of Kadey’s reminders for those seeking to amp up their plant-food intake.

Look for hidden sugar. High amounts of sugar can sneak its way into vegetarian-friendly foods, from cereal to nondairy milk and yogurt. Read package labels so you can choose options with the fewest grams of sugar per serving. 

Eat clean. You can go a long way toward limiting your exposure to pesticide residue by selecting organic strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples and other members of the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen. EWG updates its "Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce" each year, ranking popular fruits and vegetables based upon their levels of contamination. Visit for the 2017 rankings of the 51 worst offenders and an explanation of its testing procedures.

Read up on recipes. "It’s easy to slap a steak on the grill and call it a meal. But for most people, it’s more challenging to figure out what to do with a can of kidney beans or a block of tofu," says Kadey. For this year’s summer reading list, include some plant-focused cookbooks, and trade a few minutes of daily social-media surfing for food-blogs exploration. There, you’ll find recipe inspiration and education on some new cooking techniques. We practice what we preach: The delicious bean-and-grain burger in this issue’s recipe came from just such a blog.

2 More Reasons to Promote "5 a Day"


The USDA recommends filling half of your plate with fruits and vegetables at each meal []. Along with a rainbow of benefits enjoyed by everyone, produce can help specific groups in some interesting ways. 


People who smoke (or once did) may be able to decrease their risk of the lung condition chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) by upping their consumption of fruits and vegetables. Researchers in Stockholm and Warsaw teamed up to determine whether an association might exist between the antioxidants in fruits and vegetables, and the oxidative damage done to the lungs of male smokers. They looked at 44,335 men from Sweden aged 45–79 who began the study with no history of COPD. When the researchers analyzed a follow-up about 13 years later, 1,918 cases of COPD were recorded. Among both current and ex-smokers, a strong inverse association was found between total produce intake and COPD risk. Each daily serving of fruits and vegetables resulted in a significant decrease in the risk for COPD—to the tune of a reduction of 8% in current smokers and 11% in ex-smokers [Thorax Epub, Feb 22, 2017]. One more reason to tout the benefits of fruits and vegetables!


Want to help the young adults in your care improve their psychological well-being? Hand them some produce. According to a peer-reviewed study published on PLOS ONE, participants (aged 18–25) who were given 2 additional daily servings of fresh fruits and vegetables showed improvements in their self-reported well-being, with increases in motivation, vitality and flourishing [2017; 12 (2), e0171206]. The 14-day clinical trial period also tested the effects of monetary incentives and text reminders to motivate the participants to consume more of these nutrient-rich foods. Interestingly, only those who were physically handed the fruit or vegetable showed improvements. So consider rewarding young clients with a piece of fruit or a small salad after their session.

Speak Slowly and Chew Your…Ice Cream


Recently, New York City startup Lezzetli Mediterranean Ice Cream ( has created a sweet treat that has the "feeling of biting into an almost frozen marshmallow" before melting in your mouth. Inspired by the Turkish dessert dondurma, this chewy ice cream comes in unique flavors such as chios vanilla, spiced date, tart cherry and chocolate orange blossom. Most are 200 calories or less per serving because the company uses natural plant fibers as the stabilizer instead of eggs. This also helps account for the lower total fat count per serving, as compared to premium ice creams (10–11 grams vs. 15–22 g), and none of those grams are trans fat.

There Oughta Be a Law

California lawmakers want you to know—clearly—whether or not your foods and drinks contain added sugars or synthetic dyes.

With an eye toward educating parents about the adverse effects of food dye, California Senate Bill 504 was recently introduced. The legislation, if passed, would require a warning on all food containing synthetic dyes in order for it to be sold in the Golden State. Citing reports from the Center for Science in the Public Interest about the potential connection of food dyes to a variety of adverse behaviors, state Senator Bob Wieckowski is hoping California can lead the way in legislating this particular protection for kids. As even the FDA has written that "some evidence suggests that certain children may be sensitive" to synthetic dyes, it may be time for anyone who influences children’s food choices to recommend investigating natural dye alternatives. 

A second CA Bill (#300), if enacted, will require certain beverages sold in California to carry a warning regarding sugar content. Targeted are drinks that contain 75 calories (or more) of added sugar per 12-ounce serving. The recommended wording: "Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay." In a statement, California State Senate Majority Leader Bill Monning said that the warning is needed because "California continues to see a rise in obesity and type 2 diabetes among its residents." He referred to the strong and compelling scientific evidence that clearly shows the link between these preventable health conditions and sugary beverages. Though it would seem like an easy vote, Monning’s previous effort in 2014 fell short, so there’s no guarantee that this will pass. Politics aside, it’s wise to read the nutrition labels on all sugary drinks to check for quantities of added sugars [Accessed Apr 21, 2017.].

Top Choices for Lowering Blood Pressure 

For lowering blood pressure, the American Heart Association recommends 40 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity activity 3 or 4 times per week.

Encouraging clients in that arena is no sweat for fitness professionals. Impacting their diet may be another matter. Fortunately, there are a few food and beverage selections that help lower BP naturally—and are palatable to most people. Here, Santa Barbara-based registered dietitian Christina Williams serves up insights on some of the best:

  • Beet juice.
    The benefits of this beverage can be attributed to the nitrates that beets contain. When the body converts them to nitric oxide, the blood vessels dilate, lowering blood pressure.

  • Blueberries.
    These fruit jewels contain flavonoids, specifically anthocyanins—antioxidants that give the fruit their red/purple hues. Anthocyanins help prevent blood vessels from developing a buildup of plaque, which would increase blood pressure.

  • Dark chocolate.
    This one will make most people happy. Flavanol-rich cacao aids in dilating the blood vessels. (Select dark chocolate with a cacao content of 70% or higher.)

  • Ground flaxseed.
    Skip the supplements; these are most beneficial in ground food form. These tiny but powerful seeds are high in alpha-linoleic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid), lignans and fiber, and create an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.

  • Whole grain/high-fiber cereals.
    These nutrient-dense foods contain fiber, potassium, magnesium, folate, iron and selenium. High-fiber foods help you feel full longer, which reduces calorie intake and aids in weight control—an important factor in blood pressure.

One final note from Williams: "I recommend that all [clients with hypertension] make the switch from regular to decaf coffee. Caffeine is known to increase blood pressure in any individual, hypertensive or not." For this change, it may be easier to start slow, mixing half decaf with regular coffee to get used to the change.

More Parents May Want to Monitor Their Kids’ Fructose Intake

Many of kids’ favorite summer foods are havens for hidden (and not so hidden) fructose.

With an estimated 10% of all children in Western countries on the spectrum of liver disease, fitness professionals who work with children and adolescents affected by obesity may want to take note of a report in the Journal of Hepatology [2017; 66 (5), 1031–36]. Helping parents learn to limit their kids’ fructose intake could go a long way toward protecting their liver.

In the study, the research team assessed daily fructose consumption in 271 children and adolescents (mean age 12.5) diagnosed with obesity. The research team found that about 38% of the youth had an aggressive form of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) called non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). And 47% of those NASH students also had high serum uric acid (UA) concentrations. (UA was high in about 30% of subjects who did not have NASH.) Further statistical analysis confirmed a link between UA concentration and fructose consumption and NASH, with an additional association between fructose consumption and an excess of UA in the blood (hyperuricemia). Valerio Nobili, MD, chief of the Hepatometabolic Unit Liver Diseases Lab in Rome, states, "It is plausible that dietary fructose intake and uric acid concentrations are potential risk factors for liver disease progression in NAFLD." 

Parents may want to learn more about how to read labels to discover which foods are high in fructose. These are a few categories in which some (but not all) can be offenders.

  • Breakfast cereals and bars
  • Canned fruits (ex. applesauce, pears)
  • Dried fruit (ex. dates, raisins)
  • Syrups (ex. honey, maple syrup)
  • Sugary beverages (ex. juices, sodas, sports drinks)
  • Condiments with added sugar (ex. ketchup, barbecue sauce)

Terms and Conditions: NAFLD and NASH
When excessive amounts of fat build up in the liver, it’s called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), and a shocking 10–20% of the general pediatric population is affected by this condition. NAFLD, which is strongly linked to obesity, can develop into non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). NASH can lead to necrosis (cell death), fibrosis (scarring) and cirrhosis (severe scarring). Obesity is the most significant risk factor for childhood NAFLD, and most diagnoses occur around 12 years of age [2016; International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 17 (6), 947].

Recipe: BBQ Kidney Beans & Quinoa Burgers
Barbecue season is here, and Debbie Woodruff—vegan chef, running coach, personal trainer and blogger at—is ready with her recipe for these flavorful veggie burgers. What she likes about this version is the smoky flavor and spicy taste, as well as the ease of preparation. In fact, it takes just 15 minutes of prep work and another 10 minutes to cook them. And for those who cook for picky eaters, Woodruff mentions that "these burgers are a great way to sneak some fresh veggies in." We’re all for that!

1 C kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1⁄4 C prepared quinoa
1⁄4 C vegan bread crumbs
1 T chopped mushrooms
1 T chopped zucchini
1 T chopped yellow squash
1 T chopped onion
1 serrano chili, seeded and chopped
1 t liquid smoke
1⁄4 t cumin
1⁄2 t garlic powder
1⁄2 t salt
1⁄2 t cayenne

Combine the ingredients in a food processor or heavy-duty blender. Process until well-mixed, but leave some texture to the beans and veggies. If it is too thick, add about 1 T water, but be careful; add too much water, and your burger won’t hold together. Divide into 2–4 portions and form into patties. These can be grilled, broiled or fried. Cook until browned on both sides and heated through.  Source:

Meet our experts

AFM_Author_Williams Alexandra Williams, MA, A writer and editor, as well as a lecturer at UC Santa Barbara in the department of Exercise Studies, Sport and Recreation. She is a vegetarian who cooks and bakes from scratch. Find her at

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