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The Unsweetened Truth About Sugar

>> Sunday, November 30, 2014

It can be tough to navigate one's way through all the information (and misinformation!) out there about nutritional health in general.  To de-muddy the waters on added sugars and the dangers of added sugars to human health, physicians and scientists at three American universities have gotten together to produce an authoritative resource to learn about the dangers of added sugar.

The website is fantastic, well worth a good read.  They have reviewed over 8,000 research articles, and distilled the information down to inform us about how added sugar contributes to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and liver disease.

They have a page of new research alerts and a resource kit to help you share research-supported facts about sugar with others.

Images in this post come directly from their website.  Big Kudos to SugarScience!

Follow me on twitter! @drsuepedersen © 2014


Could Coffee Protect Your Liver?

>> Monday, November 24, 2014

Despite being one of the most commonly consumed beverages worldwide, the effects of coffee on our metabolism is surprisingly poorly understood.  (You can read about the controversial effects of coffee on blood sugars on my previous blog post here.)

Recently, there has been interest in understanding the effects of coffee on the liver.  Several studies have shown that liver enzyme tests are lower (which is good) with increasing coffee consumption ('inversely associated' in statistical terminology).  Some studies have suggested that coffee consumers have a decreased risk of having a fatty liver, liver cirrhosis (scarring), and even liver cancer.  An article from the American NHANES study has even suggested that people who drink 2 or more cups of coffee per day have half the risk of developing chronic liver disease, compared to those who drink less than 1 cup per day.

If coffee really is protective to the liver, an important question arises: is it caffeine that is protective, or something else in coffee?  This question was addressed in a recent study published in Hepatology, again utilizing the NHANES database.  They found that higher intake of coffee, regardless of whether it was caffeinated or decaffeinated, was associated with lower liver enzyme levels.  Components of coffee such as polyphenols, cafestol, and kahweol may be the protective elements, but no one really knows for sure.

While the findings of this study were consistent regardless of body weight or presence of diabetes, I would be interested to know what the non-coffee drinkers were drinking instead.  For example, if non coffee drinkers were consumers of Coca-Cola instead, could the soda be having a negative impact on the liver, rather than coffee having a positive impact?    More research is needed on many fronts before we will have a good understanding of exactly what is happening here.

Enjoying my java..... :)

Follow me on Twitter! @drsuepedersen © 2014


Myths and Misconceptions About Obesity

>> Sunday, November 16, 2014

Some of the biggest barriers to successful management of obesity in our society are the myths and, frankly, garbage, that pervade popular culture, media, and even medical publications. Recently, Dr Chaput and colleagues reviewed both popular media and scientific journals to bring to light the Top 7 Misconceptions about obesity: 

1.  Obesity is primarily caused by a lack of physical activity or by unhealthy dietary habits. 

Clear scientific evidence has shown us repeatedly that the picture is FAR more complex than this.  Factors such as insufficient sleep, stress, environmental chemicals, and exposures during fetal life have evidence that is as compelling, if not more compelling, than the traditional concepts of eating the wrong foods and not exercising enough. 

2.  Obese individuals are less active than their normal weight counterparts. 

This is a particularly harmful myth, as it paints the picture that people with obesity are lazy, and creates a harsh platform for weight discrimination and bias.  Recent data from the Canadian Health Measures Survey, which used accelerometers to document physical activity, shows that youth with obesity have similar levels of physical activity as youth without obesity.  Canadians in general do not exercise enough, and we as a society would benefit from increased physical activity, regardless of body size. (read about Canada's physical activity guidelines here)

3.  Diets work in the long term. 

Studies have shown that almost all people who lose weight on a diet will regain it within the next 5 years, with the majority regaining it within the first year.  The harmful follow up myth from there is that people who regain weight do so because they lack willpower.  NOT. TRUE.  The truth of the matter is that our genetics have been developed evolutionarily to very powerfully defend body weight, as a survival strategy built over thousands of years of regular famine.  The problem is that now, in our society, there is only feast. 

4.  Weight loss does not have significant adverse effects. 

While weight loss certainly has a long list of health benefits, there are potential downsides as well.  Weight loss that is too fast increases the risk of gall stones.  Weight loss reduces energy expenditure, meaning that less calories are burned by basic metabolic functions in a day, thereby defending body weight and promoting weight regain.  Weight loss in some people can increase psychological stress and depressive symptoms.  Failed weight loss attempts or weight regain can also lead to issues with self esteem as well as body image issues.  

The message is still that weight loss in people with obesity is still most definitely a good thing for health, but these weight loss efforts need to be gradual, sustainable, and partnered with the support that each individual needs to make these efforts a long term success!

5.  Exercising is better than dieting to lose weight. 

Exercise alone has generally not been found to result in significant weight loss.  Think about it this way: if you exercised as hard as you could for 1 minute, you might burn 15 calories.  If you ate as fast as you could for 1 minute (picture a big milkshake), you can down 2,000 calories or more.  The reality is that because it takes so little food intake to make up for a long period of exercise, exercise alone doesn't usually work.  As I say to my patients: focus 90% on the food side of the equation, and 10% on the exercise. 

6.  Everyone can lose weight with enough willpower. 

Untrue.  Remember that each of is built differently, with very different genetics either working with us, or in most cases against us, to maintain a healthy body weight.  There are also many medical issues and medications that can make it exceptionally difficult to lose weight. 

7.  A successful obesity management program is measured by the amount of weight lost. 

Rather than focusing on the numbers on the scale, a successful obesity treatment program should be focused on the improvement in health.  With a permanent lifestyle change, did that person's quality of life improve?  Did their diabetes get better? Do their joints hurt less? Did their sleep apnea improve?  Does the individual just feel better? These are the bars by which a successful treatment program should be judged.  

Follow me on twitter! @drsuepedersen © 2014


Is Eating Organic Really Better?

>> Monday, November 10, 2014

Aggressive marketing campaigns have many of us convinced that eating organic is healthier than conventional fare – to the point where sales of organic food in USA increased by over 7-fold between 1997 and 2010.  With organic food costing around twice as much as conventional food, we must ask – is there truly a health benefit to eating organic?

First of all, let’s talk about what is meant by ‘organic’.  Organic certification requirements vary worldwide (a potential limitation in itself), but in general, organic foods are produced without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, without irradiation or chemical food additives, and without the routine use of growth hormones or antibiotics.  Organic animals are fed organically produced food and are raised in an outdoor environment where they are free to move around. Also, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are not used in organic food production.

The question as to whether eating organic is healthier was addressed in a systematic review published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.  From 240 identified studies, the following key findings were noted:

1.  The differences in terms of nutrients in organic compared to standard fare are minimal.
There is a slightly higher level of phosphorous in organic food, but this is not thought to make a difference in overall health, as phosphorous deficiency is only seen in states of near-total starvation.  There are also higher levels of beneficial fatty acids in organic milk and chicken, and a couple of other small nutrient differences of questionable significance.

2. There was no difference in allergic symptoms or outcomes (eczema, wheezing, etc).

3. There was a 30% higher risk for pesticide contamination in conventional produce compared to organic, but the differences in risk for exceeding maximum allowed limits were small.  Two studies showed lower urine pesticide levels in children who ate organically.

4. Overall, E coli contamination risk was no different in organic produce, but the results of individual studies was conflicting and the authors noted that more research needs to be done in this area.

5. In chicken and pork, the risk of exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria was higher in conventional meat compared to organic meat.  However, it’s not clear if this is of importance to human health, because it is inappropriate use of antibiotics in humans (not in the meat we eat) that is the major cause of antibiotic-resistant infections in humans.

6. There are no long term studies on the effect of eating organically on human health.

The authors conclude that eating organically does not seem to have a great health benefit… But who really knows?   Long term studies on human health would need to be done to know this answer for sure.  I agree that there is not convincing evidence at this time to say that eating organically has big health benefits – but this possibility has not been ruled out.  The definition of ‘organic’ is variable worldwide, and the first step to understanding the benefits of organic food would be to at least standardize how we define it.

Follow me on twitter! @drsuepedersen © 2014


Canadian Obesity Network - Join (or Start) Your Local Chapter!

>> Sunday, November 2, 2014

As the Canadian Obesity Network (CON) is now over 10,000 members strong, we have started to deploy local chapters across the country to facilitate local networking and collaboration. 

The Calgary Chapter (CON-YYC) is the first of these local chapters, and since our inception in August 2014, we are proud to say that we are already over 80 members strong!   As co-president of CON-YYC, I am certainly looking forward to seeing our dynamic new organization grow and evolve, taking on its own local flavour and style. 

The CON and its chapters are professional organizations for health care providers, researchers, policy makers, and obesity stakeholders. 

And, guess what - joining CON is free!

Once you are a member of CON, how you join your local chapter will vary by city. 
For Calgary and area, here's how you join CON-YYC (also free):

1.  Email CON-YYC:

2.  (Optional) Join the CON-YYC Facebook group for even more networking and local information.

CON-YYC will be hosting an exciting SpeedChat networking event on Thursday November 20th at the University of Calgary - join now for more information!

If you are a member of CON and interested to start up your own local chapter, get in contact with the CON head office to get started.

Follow me on twitter! @drsuepedersen © 2014



I am excited that you have arrived at my site, and I hope you are too - consider this the first step towards a Healthier New You!! As a medical doctor, Endocrinologist, and obesity specialist, I am absolutely passionate about helping people with weight management. Though there is certainly no magic cure for obesity, there IS a successful treatment plan out there for you - it is all about understanding the elements that contribute to your personal weight struggle, and then finding the treatment plan that suits your needs and your lifestyle. The way to finding your personal solution is to learn as much as you can about obesity: how our toxic environment has shaped us into an overweight society; the diversity of contributors to obesity; and what the treatment options out there are really all about. Knowledge Is Power!!

Are you ready to change your life? Let's begin our journey together, towards a healthier, happier you!!

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