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Monday, January 26, 2015

TEDtalk on Food

"Food is more than the nutrients it contains."--Dr. Joanna McMillian

Monday, January 12, 2015

Pickle Juice for Muscle Cramps?

If you are an athlete you are probably no stranger to cramps. Unfortunately, the exact reason for cramping is questionable. However, there are two theories that look to shed some light on the cause. The first theory is that muscle cramps are caused by an abnormality of neuromuscular control, or an imbalance in nerve signals to muscles. The treatment for this theory is to stretch the cramping muscle. The second theory is related to the hydration status of an athlete. Dehydration can mean a loss of the essential electrolyte, sodium, among others. As the theory goes, it’s the loss of these serum electrolytes and dehydration that are responsible for cramps during exercise. This is where pickle juice may have the ability to treat muscle cramps.

Recommending pickle juice to treat muscle cramps in athletes is not uncommon. In fact, 25% of athletic trainers advocate drinking pickle juice to treat and prevent exercise-associated muscle cramps. (1) Some clinicians even claim that drinking 30 mL to 60 ML of pickle juice relieves an exercise-associated muscle cramp in as little as 30 seconds after ingestion. (2) The problem with this claim, however, is that acetic acid – the primary ingredient in pickle juice – delays gastric emptying. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that pickle juice could be absorbed and available for a cramping muscle within one minute. (3) In contrast, some health care professionals discourage athletes from drinking pickle juice. It is thought that the high salt content and low fluid content of the pickle juice will only prolong dehydration and increase the risk of hyperthermia in hot and humid environments. (4-5) However, according to one study consuming 1 mL/kg of body mass of pickle juice will not increase an athlete’s risk of dehydration. (6) 

So while the evidence supporting the use of pickle juice for exercise-associated muscle cramps is lacking, it is still important to ensure proper hydration and include adequate amounts of salt in your diet. Always consult with a sports dietitian to ensure that you have a proper hydration strategy in place and your nutrient requirements are being met for optimal athletic performance.

Gavin Van De Walle is an ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer, a freelance writer on topics of fitness and nutrition, and a dietetic student at South Dakota State University. Once Gavin becomes an RD, he will aim to achieve the distinguished Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) credential. Gavin can be reached at

Miller KC, Knight KL, Williams RB. Athletic trainers’ perceptions of pickle juice’s effects on exercise associated muscle cramps. Athl Ther Today. 2008; 13(5):31-34.

Williams R. Those devilish cramps. Train Condition. 2000; 35(suppl 2):S24.

Liljeberg H, Bjorck I. Delayed gastric emptying rate may explain improved glycaemia in healthy subjects to a stratch meal with added vinegar. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1998; 52(5):368-371.

Eichner ER. Muacle cramps: the right ways for the dog days. Coach Athl Dir. 2002; 72(August):3.
Dale RB, Leaver-Dunn D, Biship P. A compositional analysis of a common acetic acid solution with practical implications for ingestion. J Athl Train. 2003; 38(1):57-61.

Miller KC, Mack G, Knight KL. Electrolyte and Plasma Changes After Ingestion of Pickle Juice, Water, and a Common Carbohydrate-Electrolyte Solution. J Athl Train. 2009; 44(5):454-461.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Food Trends for 2015

The holiday season is finishing up while New Year’s comes with a fresh perspective on what’s to come in 2015.  Overall, these trends coincide with Paleo or “caveman” diets and the movement towards consuming more local foods.  Despite the conflicting research on if there is any benefit to gluten-free foods, the gluten-free market continues with a health ‘halo’ around it which will continue into 2015.  The following trends are a smattering of what's to come in the next 12 months. 

1.  Fat phobia is waning.  Butter sales are currently at a 40 year high according to ABC news.  If you scroll through social media, particularly, Pinterest, you will find thousands of recipes and images of everything wrapped up in bacon or avocados.

2.  Locally sourced meat is gaining in popularity.  Along with this, expect CSA (community supported agriculture) boxes to grow alongside it with local produce, local beer, etc.  Find your own local food at:
3.  Food blogging will continue to take off as will TV health experts.  More consumers will get their health and dieting information from TV doctors and celebrity chefs.
4.  Harissa is taking over for Sriracha.  Harissa is the Tunisian version of ketchup, where its blend of spices mixed with olive oil go on just about everything.
5.  Low-carb still stands.  Despite Atkins falling out of fashion, low-carb diets are dressed up in the ever popular Paleo diet (or other ‘clean eating programs’).
6.  Ramen grows up.  Your dorm room staple is now mainstream.  San Francisco and NYC restaurants have been using this Japanese staple for a while.  Research from Technomic’s MenuMonitor tracked an 18.2% increase from March 2013-2014.

Gina (Lesako) Volsko is a Columbus, Ohio based RD and the SCAN blog coordinator.  Contact her at to be a SCAN blogger.  You can find her blogging at Sport2Fork.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Lose 10 lbs. of Fat Tomorrow?

 Turn on your TV or your radio and it’s highly likely a “miracle” supplement is advertised. It seems as though every week, a new supplement is touted to help you lose fat or gain muscle ridiculously fast with minimum efforts. Well, I hate to break it to you, but illegal anabolic steroids are usually the only thing capable of producing rapid fat loss or quick muscle growth.

Dietary supplements are protected under The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), meaning dietary supplements do not have to demonstrate proof of effectiveness or even safety. Scary right!? Some fat burners have even been linked with inflammation of the liver. That’s not all… A product marketed as a vitamin B supplement was linked with unusual hair growth in women and impotence in men.1 Why? Two potentially harmful anabolic steroids were found in the product.


            So just how can you tell if a dietary supplement is a fad? Fear no more, The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has provide you with 10 red flags. Now you have the ability to decide if a supplement or even a diet is credible or if it’s a fad promising to give you a fat burning and muscle building “super powers.”

            Here it goes: It promises a quick fix, there are dire warnings of danger from a single product or regimen, the claims sound too good to be true, there are simplistic conclusions drawn from a “complex” study, the recommendations are based on a single study, there are dramatic statements that are disproved by reputable scientific organizations, it lists “good” and “bad” foods, testimonials that are used to help sell the product are present, the recommendations are based on studies published without a peer review, and finally the recommendations from studies ignore differences among individuals or groups.3

Hoofta, give me a chance to catch my breath!

            The best approach to a weight loss program includes healthy food choices with exercise, behavior modifications, nutrition education and some motivation. Building muscle requires a gradual increase in energy intake with combined weight lifting to maximize muscle mass gain over fat gain. Finally focus on proper fueling with food rather than dietary supplements.

Once your food is in place, certain dietary supplements can be effective.

            Whey protein, creatine, and even caffeine have been proven to be effective in aiding your training. But before whipping out your wallet for supplements, make sure you keep the 10 red flags in the back of your mind to save your health and your wallet talk with a Registered Dietitian.

Gavin Van De Walle is an ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer, a freelance writer on topics of fitness and nutrition, and a dietetic student at South Dakota State University. Once Gavin becomes an RD, he will aim to achieve the distinguished Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) credential. Gavin can be reached at

1.      Y Radha Krishna, V Mittal, P. Grewal, Mi Fiel, T Schiano. Acute liver failure caused by ‘fat burner’ and dietary supplements: A case report and literature review. Can J Gastroenterol. 2011; 25(3): 157-160.
2.      Food and Drug Administration: FDA warns consumers about health risks with Healthy Life Chemistry dietary supplement.
3.      ADA. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Food and nutrition misinformation. J Am Diet Assoc. 2006;106:601.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Cranberries--America's "Superfruit"

While news headlines may lead to you believe we need to travel to far-off, exotic locations to unearth nature’s “superfoods,” the reality is we can find “superfoods” right in our back yards.  Gogi, noni or acai berries are popular among health trendsetters; marketers of said foods promise a life-altering experience after consumption of those foods and often the price tag would lead you to believe that yes, this outrageously priced food must be a food cure-all! 

While I cannot vouch for the validity of such promises, I can vouch for the benefits of all-natural, versatile and affordable cranberries.  Cranberries are actually one of two native fruits of North America, the other being blueberries.  Native Americans used cranberries for their medicinal purposes and also to make an energy bar-like product called pemmicana.  While Native Americans called cranberries sassamanesh, Dutch Settlers eventually called them crane berries because the flower resembles the head and bill of a crane.1   Nowadays, we call them cranberries and I was surprised to learn that cranberries far outrank blueberries and cherries in yield, production and consumption. 2 So while we may think of cherries and blueberries as patriotic fruits, cranberries really are all-American.

Besides widespread consumption and popularity, cranberries have numerous convincing health benefits backed by research.  It’s worth noting that a pound of cranberries rings in at about $2.50 per pound while those other, exotic “superfruits” cost around $27 per pound.  So after checking out just a few of cranberries’ health benefits, below, consider keeping a bag of affordable cranberries around year-round, not just throughout the holiday season. 

Urinary tract infections: Antibacterial resistance is an increasing issue and health professionals are looking for other options in treating and preventing infections.  Cranberries have been shown to reduce the incidence of recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs) in women and children.  Cranberry consumption prevents bacteria from adhering to cell walls in the urinary tract; if bacteria cannot adhere they won’t grow and cause infection.  Studies have tested 100% juice, juice cocktails as well as capsulated cranberry extracts and found positive results in all.  It appears that drinking a glass of cranberry juice twice a day may have the best benefits.

Cardiovascular:  Cranberries contain a unique set of proanthocyanidins (PAC), including the rare type-A PAC.   With the exception of lingonberries, no other fruit contains type-A PACs at the high level of cranberries.  It is these PACs that give cranberries their associated health benefits. 3 Cranberry consumption leads to an improvement in several cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as cholesterol, inflammation, arterial stiffness and endothelial function. 

Cholesterol—Both animal and human studies show that consumption of cranberry juice anthocyanins lowers LDL cholesterol by interfering with LDL uptake.  Additionally, cranberry anthocyanins inhibit cholesterol ester transfer protein which increases HDL concentrations. 
Inflammation—Because cardiovascular disease is an inflammatory disease, risk is often expressed in terms of levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) and other inflammatory biomarkers.  In vitro and in vivo studies have shown that cranberry juice consumption leads to decreases in CRP and vascular cell adhesion molecules in patients with hypercholesterolemia, thus lowering risk.
Arterial Stiffness—Arterial stiffness measures predict cardiovascular events and are often used as a measure of the pathogenesis of hypertension and heart failure.  Luckily for CVD patients, arterial stiffness responds to dietary interventions - and a study by Dohadwala et al. showed that drinking about two cups of a 54% cranberry juice beverage led to a decrease in aortic stiffness.  Additionally, Jennings et. al. found that higher intakes of anthocyanins and flavones are inversely associated with arterial stiffness. 4
Endothelial dysfunction—A healthy vascular endothelium produces many factors that maintain vasomotor tone, thrombosis, inflammation and capillary growth.  One of those, nitric oxide, plays an important role in CVD risk as it influences blood vessel dilation, platelet aggregation and anti-inflammatory markers.  Studies have shown that cranberry bioactives increase the bioavailability of NO by increasing concentrations of enzymes that promote NO production; as such, studies have shown increased endothelial dilation and improved function after consumption of cranberry juice consumption (about 2 cups).   

In addition to a reduction in specific CVD risk markers, observational studies have also shown a decreased risk of CVD with increased anthocyanin intake from cranberries.  Considering most Americans are not eating enough fruit, according to the dietary guidelines, cranberries and cranberry products would make an excellent addition to any diet while also reducing risk of disease.  While cranberry products are often sweetened, it is worth noting that cranberry juice contains less sugar (11.7g/100mL) than 100% grape, apple and orange juices (16.5, 11.1 and 10.5 g/100mL).  Additionally, dried or fresh cranberries are also prepared with added sugar but the best use of added sugar is to improve the palatability of nutrient-dense food.  Looking at the research, it is obvious that cranberries definitely are a nutrient-dense food with positive health benefits.

Kym Wroble earned her Bachelor of Science degree in nutrition and dietetics and minored in food science at Dominican University, River Forest, Illinois. She completed the clinical component of her dietetic internship with Iowa State University at Great River Medical Center in Burlington, Iowa. Her previous experience working as a nutrition educator at Scott County WIC provided her with additional focused training in several areas including pregnancy, postpartum wellness, breastfeeding and infant and child nutrition. In June of 2009, Kym completed the CDR Certificate of Training in Adult Weight Management.  Kym is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) and the Iowa Dietetic Association.  Additionally, she is also a member of several dietetic practice groups, including the Dietitians in Business and Communications, Food and Culinary Professionals dietetic practice group and the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition dietetic practice group. She has a particular interest in culinary nutrition and enjoys cooking, baking, recipe modification, and learning about food and wine. She played varsity volleyball at Dominican University and continues to enjoy an active lifestyle jogging, biking and weight training.

1.        Cranberry History,” Ocean Spray, Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc., Web. 26 November 2014.
2.        “Trends and Insights of the Blueberry, Cranberry, and Tart Cherry Industries,” Cherry Industry Administrative Board., CIAB., Web. 26 November 2014.
3.        Blumberg, Jeffrey B., et. al, “Cranberries and Their Bioactive Constituents in Human Health,” Amer. Jour. for Clin. Nutr., 4:2013, 618-632. Web. 25 November 2014.

4.        Jennings, Amy, et. al, “Higher anthocyanin intake is associated with lower arterial stiffness and central blood pressure in women,” Amer. Jour. for Clin. Nutr., 112.042036v1, Web. 26 November 2014.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Don’t Let the Holidays Sabotage Your Workouts asond Waistline

The holidays are here overflowing with parties, yummy treats, alcohol, stress, and lack of time for workouts. Heavy eating and drinking during the holidays can make you feel sluggish, interfere with the intensity of your workouts, and cause you to jump on the weight loss New Year resolution bandwagon.
You could hide under a blanket in an attempt to avoid the celebrations and delicious foods.   That’s not fun.  The key is balance.  Here are some ways you can even out the playing field and emerge from the holiday season still fitting into your favorite pair of jeans:

·         Don’t show up to holiday parties hungry. If you show up to a party low on fuel, the end result is piling your party plate sky-high with fatty, salty, albeit delicious foods. And you may go back for seconds. Before heading out to a party, have a small snack that will quiet a grumbling belly. For example, try a ¼ cup of trail mix, 2 teaspoons peanut butter on a slice of bread, or a ¼-1/2 cup low fat whipped cottage cheese mixed with 1 teaspoon jam.
·         Hydrate. The abundance of alcohol can dehydrate you. While it’s great to kick back and relax a bit, going overboard can lead to dehydration, greatly impacting your damage-control workout the day after. Be sure to stay well-hydrated throughout the day, and drink water in between your holiday glasses of wine.
·         Load up on healthy stuff.  While at a holiday party, survey the choices. Is there a green salad? Roasted veggies? Sushi platter (not ‘tempura’, aka, fried)? A platter of grapes or fruit salad? Try to load your plate up with the healthiest choices, and save a small portion of your plate for the savory, rich foods.
·         Find a goal to keep motivated.  Keep unwanted pounds away by signing up for a holiday run in your neighborhood. Many towns sponsor a “Ho, Ho, Ho” or “Jingle” run. Check out a website like to find out what races are near you. Is your gym holding a holiday challenge? Sign up! This time of year many gyms also start to offer discounts on personal training packages. 
·         Something is better than nothing. We are so busy this time of year, it can be too easy to ditch your workout.  Search through workout magazines and websites for short, yet effective workouts you can squeeze into a 30 minute window.  Many workout DVDs are focused on short, intense workouts lasting 20-30 minutes. The Runner’s World website posted the article “Three Workouts to Maintain Fitness Through the Holidays” featuring short duration, high intensity interval training workouts on the treadmill that may boost post-workout metabolism and possibly help improve speed.  Whatever workout you choose, 30 minutes is always better than nothing!

Should the holidays get the best of you and leave you feeling defeated, remember, you do not need to give up. Pick yourself back up again, find a race or gym challenge that motivates you, urge friends to join you, and get back into the swing of your workouts and healthy eating. Happy Holidays!

Alison Barkman, MS, RD, CDN is an adjunct professor for nutrition undergraduates at LIU/Post in Brookville, NY. She is starting a sports nutrition practice in Garden City, NY, and is available for nutrition counseling, sports nutrition clinics for athletes, and nutrition communications consulting.  She can be reached at or 516-220-9320. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Can Walnuts Increase Improve Your Exercise Performance?

                Regular walnut consumption is associated with several health benefits including healthy brain aging, improved cognitive performance and heart health. (1, 2, 3)  But, in case that’s not convincing enough to make you want to add a handful of walnuts to your diet daily, I have another reason. Walnuts may even the ability to improve exercise performance!


                Researchers of a study published in the Journal of Laboratory Animal Research, investigated the anti-fatigue effect of walnuts on the forced swimming capacity in mice. (4) A forced swimming test is essentially like dropping you into a water tank where you cannot stand or hold onto something. This type of test acts as both an endurance and a stress test. The mice in the experimental group were given either 300, 600, or 900 mg/kg a day of walnut extract, while the mice in the control group were only given water.  It turns out that the mice who were given walnut extract coped much better than mice in the vehicle control group.
                The increased swimming times by the mice given walnut extract are suggested to be in part due to decreased levels of lactate and ammonia. The accumulation of blood lactate and ammonia are known to cause fatigue and decreased exercise capacity. Therefore, it is suggested that the walnut extract exhibits an anti-fatigue effect. And, while all dosages of walnut extract resulted in increased endurance, 600 mg/kg appears to be the optimal dosage. The walnut extract dosage of 600 mg/kg a day was based on human equivalent of the recommended intake of raw walnut – which is about 42 grams per day, or roughly about a handful.
                Walnuts complement a wide range of flavors and they are great to add to just about anything. Try adding walnuts to your morning cereal, toss some in with your salad, sprinkle them on pasta, or even use them to make delicious dips and spreads!

Gavin Van De Walle is an ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer, a freelance writer on topics of fitness and nutrition, and a dietetic student at South Dakota State University. Once Gavin becomes an RD, he will aim to achieve the distinguished Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) credential. Gavin can be reached at
1.       Willis, LM., Shukitt-Hale B., Cheng V., Joseph JA. Dose-dependent effects of walnuts on motor and cognitive function in aged rats. Br J Nutr. 2009; 101(8): 1140-4.
2.       Pribis P., Bailey RN., Russell AA., et al. Effects of walnut consumption on cognitive performance in young adults. B J Nutr. 2012; 107(9): 1393-401.
3.       Berryman CE., Grieger JA, West SG., et al. Acute consumption of walnuts and walnut components differentially acute postprandial lipemia, endothelial function, oxidative stress, and cholesterol efflux in humans with mild hypercholesterolemia. J Nutr. 2013; 143(6): 788-94.

4.       Kim DI, Kim KS. Walnut extract exhibits anti-fatigue action via improvement of exercise tolerance in mice. Lab Anim Res. 2013; 29(4): 190-5.