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What You Eat Is More Important than How Much You Eat

A study From Harvard School of Public Health shows that telling overweight people to "eat less and exercise more" rarely helps them lose weight (New England Journal of Medicine, June 23, 2011). That encourages them to eat any foods they want and, as they age, they continue to gain weight which is associated with increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, strokes, breast cancer, colon cancer, and premature death.

120,877 healthy, non-obese women and men were followed for 20 years. The study shows which foods and lifestyle factors should be avoided to prevent an average weight gain of almost 17 pounds in 20 years. If you eat the wrong foods, you can gain weight even if you exercise. Small changes in eating and exercising can prevent this weight gain. Those who were overweight at the start of the study gained the most weight over the study time.

Study surprises: Weight gain is not associated with eating yogurt, nuts, or peanut butter. Yogurt appears to contain bacteria that cause the body to produce hormones that make you less hungry. Nuts contain primarily monounsaturated fats that are not associated with increased risk for weight gain.

Foods that caused the most weight gain:
• French fries (2 lbs per four-year period)
• potato chips (1.69 lbs)
• potatoes (1.28 lbs)
• other forms of potatoes (0.57 lb)
• sugar-sweetened beverages (1 lb)
• red meats (0.95 lb)
• processed meats (0.93 lb)
• refined grains (0.39 lb)
• sweets and desserts (0.41 lb)
• other fried foods (0.32 lb)
• fruit juice (0.31 lb)
• butter (0.3 lb)

Foods that caused weight loss:
• vegetables (-0.22 lb per four-year period)
• whole grains (-0.37 lb)
• fruits (-0.49 lb)
• nuts (-0.57 lb)
• yogurt (-0.82 lb).

Lifestyle factors: In addition to diet, the study shows that you should exercise daily, sleep 6 to 8 hours a day, restrict television watching, avoid smoking and do not take more than one drink a day.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: Can you predict which children are likely to excel in certain sports just by looking at them?

Yes! Those with the longest Achilles tendons in the back of the lower leg will probably be better long distance runners, while those with the shortest Achilles tendons will probably be the best body builders (Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, August 2011) .

Look at the ratio of the Achilles tendon to the large bulge above it which is the calf muscle group. If the Achilles tendon is more than half way up your leg, you have a long tendon and have an advantage in running long distances. If the calf muscle bulge goes down almost to your ankle, you have the potential to be a body builder. Body building contests require athletes to have very large muscles which are characterized by long muscles with shorter tendons.

When you run, you land on your foot and spring forward in the air to drive your body forward. When you land, the Achilles tendon stretches and stores up to 70 percent of the energy of the force of your foot hitting the ground. Then the tendon shortens to release this extra stored energy, to drive you forward. Those with the longest tendons store the most energy to drive you forward with greater force. The authors proved this by showing that people with longer Achilles tendons required less oxygen to drive them forward after their foot hits the ground. Lack of oxygen is the limiting factor to how fast you can run over long distances.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: Why have I suffered sports injuries primarily in the winter and spring?

You could lack vitamin D. To meet your needs for that vitamin, you have to expose your skin to sunlight or take vitamin D pills. You cannot get enough vitamin D from foods.

NFL players with low vitamin D levels are at increased risk for muscle and tendon injuries (American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine's Annual Meeting in San Diego, July 11, 2011). The lower the level of vitamin D, the more likely the players were to be injured.

Vitamin D acts directly on specific receptors in muscles to make them stronger and prevent injury (Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, April 2010). A review of several studies shows that giving vitamin D pills to athletes with normal blood levels may not strengthen muscles, but lack of vitamin D weakens muscles. Giving athletes who have a deficiency defined by blood levels of D3 below 25 nmol/L, strengthens their muscles (Osteoporosis International, October, 2010).

We have known for more than 50 years that taking large doses of male hormones can help athletes recover faster and grow stronger with significantly larger muscles. Recent research shows that male hormones (the anabolic steroid nandrolone decanoate) strengthens muscles by stimulating the vitamin D receptor in muscles (Annual Meeting of the Endocrine Society, June, 2011). Athletes with vitamin D3 levels below 75 nmol/L may need more sunlight or vitamin D pills.

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Recipe of the Week:

Mexican Shrimp Salad

You'll find lots of recipes and helpful tips in The Good Food Book - it's FREE

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July 24th, 2011
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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