No Image

How Grocery Stores, Restaurants, Your Office And Even Your Kitchen Trick You Into Eating More

September 17, 2014 Amanda L. Chan 0

Chew on this: When it comes to eating healthfully, our environments may be working against us.

Not always on purpose. But simple elements — from the color paint in our kitchens to the size of the plates we use to whether we eat lunch at our desks or in the office break room — all seem to influence the way we eat.

Fortunately, food psychologist and behavioral economist Brian Wansink, Ph.D., director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University, has some actionable tips for not getting duped by our environments. Wansink literally wrote the book on mindless eating, and now his new book — titled Slim By Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life, out Sept. 23 — explains how we can avoid having our diets derailed by the design of our homes, restaurants, offices and grocery stores.

“We find 80 percent of all eating decisions are made within five miles of where you live — it’s your home, it’s the two or three most-frequented restaurants, it’s where you shop for groceries, it’s where you work,” Wansink tells HuffPost. The aim of the book is to give readers “a bunch of things you can do as an individual … as well as small changes you can ask restaurants, grocery stores, schools and work sites, that will help you mindlessly eat better.”

In fact, Wansink points out that many of the design tweaks offered in the book — for restaurants to make side salads a more attractive menu option than French fries, for instance — are not only good for people, but are also smart from a business standpoint because they could end up cutting costs.

We asked Wansink to share some of the biggest dietary pitfalls in our environments and easily implementable tips from his book to set ourselves up for eating success:

At the grocery store…

grocery store

The pitfall: Falling for the snack food aisle. When you’re perusing all those processed snacks, “you start imagining or simulating what it would be like to eat those potato chips,” Wansink says. The crunch, the crinkle, the saltiness — “the more you simulate it in your mind, [the more] you think ‘Oh, I need some potato chips.'”

The fix: Before you step foot in the grocery store, pop a piece of gum in your mouth. Wansink found in his research that when you give people a piece of sugarless gum, not only do cravings and hunger for foods drop, but they also buy less snack food.

Other tips:

  • Go through the aisles with the healthiest foods first. For some reason, we’re more inclined to load up on what we see first. So if you initially set your sights on fruits and vegetables… well, you get the gist.

  • Eat a healthy snack first so you won’t be starving. While Wansink found in his research that you won’t necessarily spend more money if you shop on an empty stomach, you will be more inclined to buy the less-healthy convenience foods.

In the kitchen…

food kitchen counter

The pitfall: Leaving chips and cereal out on the counter. Wansink conducted a study where he and his colleagues took photos of kitchens in 240 homes in Syracuse, New York. They examined every detail of the kitchens, from the measurements to what kinds of foods were sitting out. Their findings were startling: Having potato chips visible anywhere in the kitchen was associated with weighing 9 pounds more than the neighbors. And having breakfast cereal out was even worse: For women, it was associated with weighing 21 pounds more than the neighbors. “You think, ‘Cereal is healthy, here’s a box, let me grab a handful,'” Wansink reasons.

The fix: Keep fruit out instead. That study also showed that people who keep a fruit bowl out weigh 8 pounds less than their neighbors. “You can debate the causality: Is it slim people who have fruit bowls, or do fruit bowls make you slim? I don’t know. But if you want to be slim, once you start at least doing what [slim people] are doing, you’re tilting the field in the right direction,” he says.

Other tips:

  • Be strategic with how you serve food. Using a bigger plate makes it look like there’s less food on it — so you’ll end up heaping more onto it. Same goes with serving dishes: If you serve out of a bigger container, you’ll be tricked into thinking that it’s OK to give yourself more. So opt for smaller dishware — it could help prevent over-eating.

  • Make your kitchen a little less comfy (so you won’t want to spend all your time there). There’s a correlation between time spent in the kitchen and the amount of food you eat, so the less time you spend in the kitchen, the less you’ll likely eat.

At the office…

lunch desk

The pitfall: You eat lunch at your desk. Maybe it’s because you want to prove your intense work ethic and dedication to your coworkers or boss. Or maybe you’re just too shy to ask a coworker to grab a bite with you. No matter the reason, eating at your desk is associated with eating less healthfully because people will “either eat worse foods, or they compensate later that day,” Wansink explains. “Because they were such a good worker bee, they think, ‘Oh, I can stop on the way home to get something for my commute home, since I had such a big day spent at my desk.”

The fix: Make a point to get up from your desk for lunch. “You’ll eat better, you’ll eat slightly less and I think that, more importantly, you’ll probably not be so stressed out,” he says.

Other tips:

  • If your office has a cafeteria, make a point to put fruit on your tray first. Wansink’s research shows that when people are given a free piece of fruit first in the lunch line, they make smarter lunch choices.

  • Pay with cash. For some reason, people seem to purchase fewer desserts and soft drinks when they pay with cash, his research shows.

Out to eat…


The pitfall: You order all the things. “Nobody goes to a restaurant to go on a diet,” Wansink says. To this effect, it’s easy to overdo it and order everything your heart desires.

The fix: Follow the “Restaurant Rule of 2.” Go ahead and order the entrée you want, and then in addition to that, allow yourself to have two other items. Maybe it’s a piece of bread and an appetizer. Maybe it’s a glass of wine and a dessert. But what it can’t be is one of everything. “We find that when people do this, they don’t feel put out, they don’t feel compromised,” Wansink explains. “Because what happens is they think, ‘Wow, I can take the two things I want most? Cool, I like that.’ And on average, people report to us, they eat about 21 to 23 percent fewer calories.”

Other tips:

  • Ask your waiter to box up half your meal ahead of time. With restaurant portion sizes being what they are today (you know, giant), help yourself out by not even giving yourself the option to polish off your entire plate.

  • Be menu savvy. There are clues on chain restaurant menus that seem to be linked with the calorie counts of the dishes they describe. For instance: Buttery = high-calorie. Marinated = low-calorie. Loaded = high-calorie. Roasted = low-calorie.

For more information on what you can do to “mindlessly eat better,” as well as information on advocating for healthier design at restaurants and grocery stores, visit

No Image

How Blueberry Pie Caused A Girl’s Strange Allergic Reaction

September 3, 2014 Amanda L. Chan 0

By Rachael Rettner, Senior Writer
Published: 09/03/2014 09:48 AM EDT on LiveScience

A girl in Canada experienced an unusual allergic reaction to blueberry pie — she was not allergic to any of the pie’s ingredients, but instead reacted to antibiotic residue in the food, a new study suggests.

Shortly after eating a slice of blueberry pie, the girl experienced facial flushing, hives and abnormal breathing. She was taken to an emergency room, and treated with drugs used for allergic reactions, including epinephrine, and recovered.

A team of doctors then investigated what might have caused the girl’s reaction. Although the patient was allergic to milk, an analysis showed the pie did not contain milk. Doctors also performed tests to see if the girl was allergic to other ingredients in the pie, such as blueberries, eggs or nuts, but the tests all came back negative. [8 Strange Signs You’re Having an Allergic Reaction]

Further analysis showed that the pie contained residue from an antibiotic. The doctors tested the girl for an allergy to streptomycin, an antibiotic used as a pesticide on fruit. And, indeed, she reacted to streptomycin in much the same way as she had responded to the blueberry pie.

Although the researchers did not have access to enough of the pie to confirm that it contained streptomycin specifically, the study results suggests that the girl’s allergic reaction was caused by streptomycin-contaminated blueberries, the researchers said.

Allergic reactions to antibiotics in food — such as beef and milk — are rare, but have been reported. The new study is the first to link an allergic reaction to antibiotics in fruit, the researchers said.

The findings serve as a reminder to doctors in cases of unexplained allergic reaction. “Don’t forget to think about antibiotics,” said study researcher Dr. Anne Des Roches, an allergist at CHU Sainte-Justine, a health center affiliated with the University of Montreal in Quebec.

Allergic reaction to antibiotics in food are underdiagnosed because doctors cannot simply check a product label for antibiotics; they have to send the sample to special laboratories to perform an analysis, Des Roches said.

“This is a very rare allergic reaction” Dr. James Sublett, president-elect of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, said in a statement. “Nevertheless, it’s something allergists need to be aware of and that emergency room personnel may need to know about.”

Use of antibiotics in agriculture has received criticism because it may contribute to the rise of antibiotic resistance. Some countries have banned the use of antibiotics for growing food, but the practice is allowed in the United States and Canada.

Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration took steps to help phase out the use of certain antibiotics in livestock; the drugs had been used to help animals gain weight faster.

Stricter policies to reduce antibiotic contaminants in foods will not only help to fight antibiotic resistance, but may also reduce the type of rare allergic reaction that the girl in the study experienced, the researchers said.

The study is published in the September issue of the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Follow Rachael Rettner @RachaelRettner. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

Copyright 2014 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. ]]>

No Image

Trans Fat Found In Some Packaged Foods, Despite ‘0 Grams’ Claim

September 2, 2014 Amanda L. Chan 0

By Bahar Gholipour, Staff Writer
Published: 08/30/2014 03:24 PM EDT on LiveScience

People may be consuming more trans fat than they think, as a result of misleading food labels, according to a study from the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Researchers examined 4,340 top-selling packaged foods and found that 9 percent contained partially hydrogenated oils, the main source of trans fat. But of those foods, 84 percent claimed on their packaging to have “0 grams” of trans fat.

The amount of trans fat in these products varied from small traces to almost 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving, the researchers said. [5 Foods that Could Change Under a Trans Fat Ban]

Under the rules of the Food and Drug Administration, foods that contain less than 0.5 g of trans fat per serving must be labeled with “0 g” of trans fat.

“This labeling is cause for concern because consumers, seeing the 0 g trans fat on the nutrition facts label, are probably unaware that they are consuming trans fat,” the researchers wrote in their study, published in the in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

Trans fat is a specific type of fat that is formed when hydrogen is added to liquid oils to turn them into solid fats. The FDA has tentatively determined that partially hydrogenated oils are not “generally recognized as safe” for consumption. If the FDA makes a final determination, trans fat would become an illegal food additive.

People who consume trans fat may be at higher risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes, studies have suggested.

The food products examined in the study ranged from cookies to salad dressing and canned soup.

“Our analysis demonstrates that industrial trans fat is still common in U.S. packaged foods, particularly in some food categories,” the researchers said.

For example, half of the foods in the potato chips category, and 35 percent of cookies contained trans fat, according to the report.

Email Bahar Gholipour or follow her @alterwired. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Originally published on Live Science.

Copyright 2014 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. ]]>

No Image

A Call For A Low-Carb Diet

September 2, 2014 Amanda L. Chan 0

People who avoid carbohydrates and eat more fat, even saturated fat, lose more body fat and have fewer cardiovascular risks than people who follow the low-fat diet that health authorities have favored for decades, a major new study shows.

The findings…

No Image

Americans’ Eating Habits Have Improved A Bit — Except Among Poor

September 2, 2014 Amanda L. Chan 0

CHICAGO (AP) — Americans’ eating habits have improved — except among the poor, evidence of a widening wealth gap when it comes to diet. Yet even among wealthier adults, food choices remain far from ideal, a 12-year study found.

On an index of healthy eating where a perfect score is 110, U.S. adults averaged just 40 points in 1999-2000, climbing steadily to 47 points in 2009-10, the study found. Scores for low-income adults were lower than the average and barely budged during the years studied. They averaged almost four points lower than those for high-income adults at the beginning; the difference increased to more than six points in 2009-10.

Higher scores mean greater intake of heart-healthy foods including vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats, and a high score means a low risk of obesity and chronic illnesses including heart disease, strokes and diabetes. Low scores mean people face greater chances for developing those ailments.

The widening rich-poor diet gap is disconcerting and “will have important public health implications,” said study co-author Dr. Frank Hu of the Harvard School of Public Health. Diet-linked chronic diseases such as diabetes have become more common in Americans in general, and especially in the poor, he noted.

“Declining diet quality over time may actually widen the gap between the poor and the rich,” Hu said.

Harvard School of Public Health researchers developed the healthy diet index used for the study. It is similar to federal dietary guidelines but features additional categories including red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages and alcohol.

The study authors used that index along with government estimates on trans fat intake to evaluate information in 1999-2010 national health surveys that included interviews with people about their eating habits. The results are published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Hu said the widening diet gap reflects an income gap that deepened during the recent financial crisis, which likely made healthy food less affordable for many people. Hu also noted that inexpensive highly processed foods are often widely available in low-income neighborhoods.

The overall diet improvement was largely due to decreased intake of foods containing trans fats but the disappointing results point to a need for policy changes including better nutrition education, Hu said.

In recent years the government and manufacturers have moved to phase out use of artificial trans fats in foods including processed cookies, cakes, frozen pizza and margarines. Trans fats contribute to unhealthy cholesterol levels and can increase heart disease risks. These fats are made by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil to improve texture and shelf life.

The study authors say their results are consistent with an earlier report showing that “nearly the entire U.S. population fell short of meeting federal dietary recommendations.”

The federal guidelines are updated every five years and new ones will be issued next year. The current recommendations emphasize limiting intake of trans fats, sodium, processed foods and added sugars. They don’t specify amounts but encourage diets high in whole grains, vegetables and fruits.

The Harvard index has a similar emphasis with some specifics; to get a top score would include eating daily more than two cups of vegetables, at least four servings of fruit and at least one ounce of nuts.

A JAMA Internal Medicine editorial says the Harvard diet index isn’t perfect because it puts equal emphasis on various foods that may not contribute equally to health. Still, the study highlights a “growing chasm” that is a public health concern, the editorial says. It suggests that government efforts to close the gap with programs including food stamps may be insufficient and that limiting government benefits to cover only healthful foods might be a better strategy.



JAMA Internal Medicine:

Federal dietary guidelines:


AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner can be reached at

No Image

This Is Why Eating Beans Makes You Gassy

August 28, 2014 Amanda L. Chan 0

It is a fact of life that eating beans makes you more… well… pungent.

But have you ever stopped to think about why? Men’s Health created a video explaining what exactly is happening in the body when we eat beans — and why it often leads to some unpleasant bodily functions.

And while embarrassing, keep in mind that passing gas is perfectly natural — in fact, we do it about 20 times a day, on average. (But still, if you’re trying to avoid excess gas, check out these foods that could help.)