There is something ironic about freezing cold weather in Florida! I know, I should not be complaining because rest of the country seems to be under a really bitter cold, but I can’t help myself. It is not supposed to be that cold here. I would not mind it so much if it got cold enough to get some snow and everything shut down for a day or so. That way, we could go out and play in the snow with kids. That would be fun, but this bitter cold with the sun shining on us at the same time is simply miserable!

Anyway, enough of complaining about the cold. I hope you all had a wonderful Holiday season. I am just now getting in the groove with blogging again in the new year after a short break. Therefore, for this week’s 5 for Fridays, I am going to pick my personal favorite nutrition stories of 2009 I wrote about in this weekly column. So, here they are; let me know what you think about them.

Even Top Chefs Have Picky Kids (published Feb 20, 2009)

I have not seen the otherwise popular show “Top Chef”, but I really liked this interview with Chef Tom Colicchio in the New York Times. Despite his celebrity status, he appears to be quite modest and down-to-earth. Like most parents, he too struggles with his teenage son’s eating habits. I liked his ideas about wholesome food made from fresh ingredients and setting an example by eating healthy food at home. According to him, the choice of food is not between unhealthy and healthy, it is between good and bad! Although he acknowledges that people are busy, it is not really that hard and time consuming to make a healthy recipe (if you know what you are doing of course!). He proves that by giving an example of a 20-minute pasta dish with a yummy clams sauce.

Which vitamin is better – tablet or liquid? (published Mar 27, 2009)

There is an interesting debate going on in one of the LinkedIn groups on Nutrition. Does a tablet form of vitamin work better inside the body or the liquid form? Absorption of vitamins and minerals from a multivitamin supplement is not very well understood. In the absence of scientific data, all kinds of claims are made about liquid vitamins that they are better and they are absorbed quickly. In response to these claims, those who believe in tablets and capsules tend to make their own counter claims. It is all very confusing to everybody.

In response to my poll on multivitamins, most of those who used these supplements for their toddlers preferred the gummies or tablet variety. Very few favored the liquid form. Could be that liquid form of vitamins is not very common and tends to be more expensive.

I have been thinking about this topic lately and I intend to do some research before writing a post. In the meantime, feel free to share your opinion.

The sweet nothingness of artificial sweeteners (published May 29, 2009)

There are so many different types of artificial sweeteners available these days. And now there is all this buzz about Stevia, the real “natural” no-calorie sweetener. How do you decide which one of the white, blue, yellow and pink packets to go for as you try to grab your morning coffee? They are zero calories all right, but should you worry about possible adverse health effects, including the possibility of cancer, from some of these chemicals? And what about the fact that consuming zero calories sugary beverages does nothing to control your appetite and you might actually end up eating more even as you try to cut down on calories? Check out this very detailed article on artificial sweeteners which basically says that most artificial sweeteners are safe in moderate amounts. So go for the one that tastes the best to you. Overall, you will be better off going for just water instead of the sweet beverage and following a nutrient-rich diet including fruits and vegetables. Zero means zero after all!

30 states have 30% or higher childhood obesity rates (published Jul 3, 3009)

Scary statistics, and nothing to be proud of in my opinion. This data comes from a new report called F as in Fat – How Obesity Policies are Failing in America 2009 published by the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). Mississippi got the top honor for its 44% childhood obesity rate – that is nearly 1 in 2 children 10-17 years old is either overweight or obese. 8 of the 10 states with highest rates of childhood obesity are in the South. Another study of children 2-5 years old in low income families shows that nearly 15% of these children are obese compared to about 12% nationwide. It is not that we don’t know the reason for this trend – children eat junk food, they spend too much time watching TV or in front of a computer, they don’t exercise, and schools are not up to standard when it comes to providing healthy meals. Still, nothing is being done about it, and seems like we have no control over the expanding waistlines of our children. Clearly, childhood obesity is a problem we need to confront with all our creativity and resources since it has terrible implications for the long term health of our nation.

Watch out, eating hamburgers can paralyze you (published Oct 9, 2009)

I was shocked beyond belief to read the unfortunate story of 22 years old Stephanie Smith, who got really sick after eating a hamburger contaminated with E. coli. She was so sick that doctors had to put her in a coma for nine weeks, after which she could no longer walk because she was paralyzed from the waist down. A very heavy price to pay for a cheap hamburger all of us assume safe for eating without much thought.

Turns out there are serious gaps in the food inspection system which is supposed to test packaged meat for E. coli contamination. Ground beef is produced by processors from beef trimmings and other parts which they buy from many different suppliers. Not all of these incoming supplies are tested for contamination before grinding. The result is that contaminated cow parts can sometime enter the ground beef supply undetected. Does not happen very frequently, but it does happen often enough to make the news. 8000 people have become sick from 16 E. coli outbreaks in the last 3 years.

No matter how many regulations and inspections are put in place, there is no way to be 100% safe because of the way meat is processed in modern plants. My advice – cut down on beef in the first place – it has been shown to increase the risk of various types of cancer. And if you do want to enjoy a burger, make sure you follow the safe handling procedures and cook it thoroughly so that the inside of the hamburger reaches 165 °F.

Photo source: dylinindustries on Flickr via everystockphoto