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PhotoCalorie + Mass General Hospital

February 12th, 2014

I am truly excited to announce that PhotoCalorie is officially licensing our software to researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, studying childhood obesity.

It has been nearly five years of hard work to get to this point.  Starting out in June 2009, all we knew was that the current gold standard of pen and paper food journals was not acceptable for our most pressing health issue.

We believe we can offer some features that other technologies currently being used cannot, including:

  • 60,000 food database all standardized to one portion size for easy search
  • Two step search with basic natural language processing
  • All photos and nutrition information are transmitted to researcher database in realtime, freeing their precious time from data entry
  • Decreasing recall bias by allowing users to take pictures of their meal and enter a description at a later time
  • Decreasing portion size misestimations by allowing researchers to literally see what a study subject is eating from their photo and make adjustments accordingly
  • E-mail reminders automatically sent to non-compliant subjects when they miss a meal
  • Ultimate customizability – we have worked with a few research groups and all had different stipulations for the data collected, the look of the landing page, etc.

For all related inquiries, see our PhotoCalorie page or email us at info@photocalorie.com.

For everyone else, lets celebrate!

Uncategorized

Biggest Challenges to Adopting a Paleo or Low Carb diet: Men Vs. Women

January 31st, 2012

The Ancestral Weight Loss Registry, an international assembly of people who have tried a paleo or carb-restricted diet, just posted their first trends. It is a wordle of the responses to the question “What was the biggest challenge to adopting a paleo/carb-restricted diet?“, separated by male and female responses.

The size of each word is a function of how much it appeared in the free response question. Here they are:

Women:

Men:

Nutrition and Weight Loss, Trends

WooFood Revolution Coming to a Restaurant Near You

January 1st, 2012

The restaurant industry is a common scapegoat for health authorities and medical professionals when conjuring up contributors to the obesity epidemic. Usually filled with condescending rhetoric, the main theme is usually similar: high calorie, high fat, high sodium foods are bad for their patrons and the health of the community. These foods are contributing to the obesity-related problems that plague our society, and it is the restaurant’s responsibility to fix this. Unfortunately they rarely venture a business friendly solution.

Enter Matt Dewolf.

Along with his colleagues at UMASS medical school, Matt created WooFood, a non-profit company founded to improve the health and nutrition in the town of Worcester, Massachusetts. The concept is simple and genius. Restaurants who would like to be WooFood certified have to meet a set of certain criteria for their food options, such as healthful portion sizes, whole grain options, or healthful children’s menu foods. Depending on the level of certification each restaurant achieves, they will receive a WooFood certification of certified, silver, or gold, which can be displayed proudly in their windows. This allows the restaurant to demonstrate its healthy choices, and provides the customer with an easy tool to determine which restaurants are certified, and which are not.

The specific meals at each restaurant which meet WooFood’s standards are clearly labeled with an easily identifiable logo, signifying a healthy choice. Here are the founders describing it themselves:

There are now three WooFood certified restaurants in Worcester, and many more are in the process of becoming certified. Any potential solution to our nation’s health problems that may stifle businesses is not a real solution. WooFood is brilliant because it does just the opposite, and is a win:win for both the consumer and the restaurants. Thanks to these insanely smart, forward-thinking medical students, Worcester will be a healthier city for years to come.

Visit WooFood.org to check out their site or here to read about the team.

Uncategorized

Easy Dinners for When You’re Pressed for Time

November 16th, 2011

The following is a guest blog post:

Some people consider easy dinners to be takeout. It’s pretty easy to call in your order to a nearby restaurant and then go and pick up your food. But doing so often isn’t necessarily easy on your pocketbook, especially if you have a spouse and kids. You can save a lot of money cooking your meals right in your very own kitchen. And it doesn’t have to be difficult. Here are three easy meals you can cook for your family:

Quick Stroganoff

In a separate pan, boil about 2 cups of water. Using a medium pan, brown your ground meat of choice and flip once edges turn a light brown color. While other side is cooking, season with salt and pepper or other favorite seasonings. Add a handful of egg noodles and let cook for 5-7 minutes (Instant rice may be substituted). Remove noodles from fire to drain water, rinse, and cool. Use a spatula to break down meat to ensure that it is cooked thoroughly. Add a small can of creamed chicken or mushroom soup and mix together with cooked meat. For a more saucy taste, stir in a ½ cup of milk or half & half. Let mixture sit for five minutes before serving over egg noodles.

Easy Quiche

You can eliminate a lot of time by buying a ready-made pie crust at the grocery store. Prepare as instructed by manufacturer. While crust is baking, begin with about six medium or four large eggs for one 8-inch pie crust. Using a large bowl, crack and beat eggs. Remove pie crust from oven, turn to 350 degrees, and fill with chopped ham, bacon bits, broccoli florets, chopped spinach, or any vegetable of your choice that is cut small. Follow with shredded cheese that can be one or any combination of the following – cheddar, gruyere, Monterey jack, Swiss, or parmesan. Pour beaten eggs over ingredients and place in oven for 30 minutes or until browned.

Fried Vegetable Rice

No need to order out when this can be made in less than 20 minutes. Using a large shallow pan, fill with a ½ cup of diluted chicken broth and add one cup of mixed vegetables. Cover for 10 minutes and add two cups of instant rice. Stir in one cup of hot water and let simmer for about 10 minutes. Stir from bottom after the first 5 minutes to prevent sticking. Add bean sprouts or parsley to garnish and serve as an entrée or as a side dish with fried or rotisserie chicken from your grocer’s hot deli section.
Making enough of this for a few days can make a difference in your budget as well as your time. While people are putting in longer hours at their jobs, this is a way to ensure that you will have a home-cooked meal right at your fingertips without any delays.

Uncategorized

Harvard Counters USDA with Their own Healthy Eating Plate

September 18th, 2011

Harvard released their own version of the USDA’s MyPlate, based on the “latest and best science.”

Unlike the USDA, Harvard’s recommendations are not limited by the food industry lobbyists. Instead of using generalized, confusing statements like “eat less solid fats” to hint at reducing saturated fat intake while appeasing the meat and dairy council, Harvard’s plate has much more specific recommendations. Here are some differences, from the press release:

  • MyPlate does not tell consumers that whole grains are better for health than refined grains
  • Its protein section offers no indication that some high-protein foods—fish, poultry, beans, nuts—are healthier than red meats and processed meats
  • It is silent on beneficial fats; it does not distinguish between potatoes and other vegetables
  • MyPlate recommends dairy at every meal, even though there is little evidence that high dairy intake protects against osteoporosis but substantial evidencethat high intake can be harmful
  • It says nothing about sugary drinks

Finally, the Healthy Eating Plate reminds people to stay active, an important factor in weight control, while MyPlate does not mention the importance of activity.

Uncategorized

USDA unveils MyPlate, replacing Pyramid

June 2nd, 2011

The USDA just unveiled their newest creation, MyPlate, replacing the bewildering MyPyramid of old. It is dramatically simplified from the previous recommendations, emphasizing three main things:

Balancing Calories

  • Enjoy your food, but eat less.
  • Avoid oversized portions.

Foods to Increase

  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • Make at least half your grains whole grains.
  • Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.

Foods to Reduce

  • Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals ― and choose the foods with lower numbers.
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

This represents a HUGE improvement in the cryptic, confusing former MyPyramid:

Policy, Uncategorized

A calorie is a calorie, unless of course they derive from an Atkins diet

May 10th, 2011

The newest issue of Consumer Reports compared various popular diets based on how they match up to the the USDA dietary guidelines, as well as how successful they are. Coming as a surprise to many, the Atkins diet seemed to perform the best. Here is their chart (red means good, black is bad. Whole circles are better than half circles):

If a calorie is a calorie, regardless of what macronutrient it comes from, then how is it possible that the Atkins diet allows the most calories, yet they boast the best short term and long term weight loss results? Consumer reports took an average of meal plans for two weeks on each diet (taken from the published books) and found that on average, an Atkins diet suggests eating over 1900 calories per day, while the Zone and Ornish suggest eating 1260 and 1525 respectably.

According to traditional logic, if you want to lose weight, there must be a calorie deficit. In other words, you should find out how many calories your body uses each day, then eat 500 calories less each day and you will lose 1 pound per week. According to PhotoCalorie.com (which employs the widely used mifflin-St Jeor basal metabolic rate equations), for a 5’3″ 160 pound woman to lose one pound per week she should eat about 1480 calories a day. If this person went on the Atkins diet summarized in Consumer Reports, they would be predicted to GAIN a pound each week! And those consuming the Zone diet would be predicted to lose the most weight since they allow the least calories per day.

Yet this doesn’t seem to be the case. In this review of diets and the scientific literature supporting them, calories don’t predict weight loss.

This seems to be an unspoken consistent finding in the scientific literature. I have summarized this exact topic, with a link to all the recent studies in our research library.

If calories don’t predict weight loss, then what does?

To try to explain these findings, or any other weight loss questions, as Gary Taubes points out, we should figure out three things:

  • What does “getting fat” mean?
  • What regulates our fat cells?
  • Is there anything we eat that modifies or enhances the effects of these regulators?

Of course getting fat means having more fat in your fat cells. The more fat that is stored in your fat cells located under your skin, the fatter you become. Next, we would want to find out if there is anything that causes the calories we eat to be diverted into our fat cells for storage as opposed to used by the body for energy? And the answer is yes. It is a hormone called Insulin. When insulin is high, calories are stored as fat. If it is low, calories are released from fat cells for energy.

This is uncontroversial. Any biochemistry textbook can explain this in depth.

The million dollar, controversial question then becomes: If insulin causes us to store fat in our fat cells, then does anything we eat cause insulin to spike?

Without a doubt, sugar or refined carbohydrates tend to spike insulin the most. Carbohydrates in general spike insulin levels. Protein does too, but too a lesser degree. So assuming this theory is true, then a net reduction in sugar and carbohydrates in your diet should result in more weight loss regardless of how many calories you are eating. This does seem to be true in the report above, since the Atkins group ate the most calories and the least carbohydrates. This also is suggested in dietary clinical trials, in which the various diets report eating the same amount of calories, yet the Atkins group seems to lose the most weight.

The next counter argument tends to be that a diet so high in saturated fats is bad for your heart. Here is how Consumer Reports explains this concept:

Isn’t it dangerous to eat so much fat? That’s still a subject of vigorous scientific debate, but it’s clear that fat is not the all-round villain we’ve been taught it is. Several epidemiology studies have found that saturated fat doesn’t seem to increase people’s risk of cardiovascular disease or stroke. Other studies suggest that you might be even better off if you replace saturated fat with unsaturated fat instead of with certain carbs, the ones that turn to blood sugar quickly after you eat them, such as white bread and potatoes. A nutrition researcher, Frank B. Hu, M.D., of the Harvard School of Public Health, recently wrote that he believes “refined carbohydrates are likely to cause even greater metabolic damage than saturated fat in a predominantly sedentary and overweight population.” Moreover, clinical studies have found that an Atkins or Atkins-like diet not only doesn’t increase heart-disease risk factors but also actually reduces them as much as or more than low-fat, higher-carb diets that produce equivalent weight loss.

There does not seem to be any strong evidence that saturated fats cause heart disease. You can read more about this here.

Nutrition and Weight Loss

Treadmill Desk!? Seriously!?!

May 1st, 2011

Treadmill Desk does not include a treadmill??

Sounding like another crazy infomercial, the Treadmill Desk is for real! The brainchild of Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic, the idea is exactly what it sounds like. Walk on a treadmill instead of sitting in a chair while answering emails and writing code. The website is filled with outrageous claims, such as “lose 50-70 pounds in a single year” and “90% decreased risk of having an initial heart attack.” There are also 52 BENEFITS TO USING THIS DESK listed on their website:

1. Switches on the body’s metabolic furnace, allowing efficient calorie burning.
2. Treadmill desks stimulate the lymphatic system and wards off disease.
3. Stimulates brain function, improving memory as much as 15% in a 6 month period using a treadmill desk.
4. Increases blood flow to the brain and increases productivity.
5. Improves mood and wards off mild depression without medication.
6. Treadmill desks promotes significant weight loss and control of appetite.
7. Prevents onset of Type II Diabetes and assists with control.
8. A treadmill desk improves blood circulation throughout the body.
9. Improve lung capacity and strength walking with a treadmill desk.
10. Promotes healthy restorative sleep patterns.
11. Bolsters the immune system.
12. Treadmill desks prevent bone loss (osteoporosis).
13. Reduces the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.
14. Treadmill desks reduce bad cholesterol (LDL).
15. Improves blood lipid profiles.
16. A treadmill desk increases good cholesterol (HDL) levels.
17. Walking at a treadmill desk reduces overall body fat.
18. Treadmill desks enhance mental well being.
19. A treadmill desk reduces the risk of colon cancer.
20. Walking with a treadmill desk may reduce the risk of breast cancer.
21. Reduces inflammation from arthritis and osteoarthritis.
22. Increases flexibility and coordination, reducing risks of falls.
23. Reduces the risk of dementia and Alzheimers.
24. Walking with a treadmill desk consistently INCREASES LIFE SPAN.
24. Relieve back pain walking on a treadmill desk.
25. Treadmill desks assist in recoveries after some surgeries.
26. Treadmill desks may reduce side effects of chemotherapy.
For the remaining list of benefits, click here.

I mean how can you not buy one now!? Here is Dr. Levine, describing his product to some excited reporters:


Lose 50-70 pounds a year? Where does he get this number from?

According to common logic, if walking at 1 mile per hour burns about 100 calories per hour, then if you walk for 8 hours a day for a year, at the end of that year you have burned 219,000 calories! Since 1 pound equals 3,500 calories, that means you would lose 62 pounds in one year! Trying to use this basic math equation to predict the complex process of human weight loss relies on one major assumption: That you will eat exactly as much as you did before walking 6 hours a day! It assumes that exercising and getting hungry (and therefore eating more) are independent variables. But anyone who lives in a city, or has walked an 18 hole golf course probably disagrees.

Later in the video, Dr. Levine says that just standing burns 20 more calories/hour than sitting. Then the reporter says that if you chew gum, that’s an extra 11 calories per hour! While it may take that much energy to stand and chew gum at the same time, if I were to say that you can lose 26 pounds a year by standing and chewing gum, It would be ridiculous.

But it is the exact same logic: If I stand (burns 20 extra calories/hour according to Dr. Levine) and chew gum (burns 11 calories per hour) for 8 hours a day, after a year I will have burned 90,520 calories and lost 26 pounds! So if this is true, why would anyone go through the hassle and social embarrassment of walking on a treadmill while checking your e-mail at work!?

This logic is fundamentally flawed. And wait a minute…this exercise at work idea sounds awfully familiar:



Nutrition and Weight Loss

Now Hiring: Overweight crash test dummies

April 5th, 2011

As if obese people aren’t stigmatized enough, a new study has discovered that the obese are more likely to die in a car crash. This news has doctors urging the use of overweight crash test dummies! The research concluded that moderately obese drivers had a 21 per cent increased risk of death, while morbidly obese had a 56 per cent decreased risk of surviving the crash. Given the current projections of obesity, making overweight crash test dummies could be quite a profitable business:

An even more interesting finding in this study was that underweight or normal weight individuals were more likely to die in a crash than slightly overweight drivers. This is an eerily similar finding to studies that show those who are slightly overweight also tend to live longer.

“Crash test dummies have saved lives and provided invaluable data on how human bodies react to crashes,” says study author Dr. Jehle of Buffalo Medical School, “but they are designed to represent normal-weight individuals. If they represented our overweight American society, there could be further improvements in vehicle design that could decrease mortality.”

In the study summary, they don’t mention whether they controlled for seatbelt wearing or not, which could skew the results, assuming that the morbidly obese have difficulty fastening their seat belts.

Uncategorized

Kate Middleton’s Mum and the ‘Fat Attack’ French Women Swear By

March 31st, 2011

The following is a guest post by Dr. Michelle Berman of Celebrity Diagnosis:

We received two books in the mail yesterday: an advance review copy of Gary Taubes’ Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It and The Dukan Diet: The French Medical Solution for Permanent Weight Loss by Dr. Pierre Dukan. Our regular readers may remember our previous story about Taubes and his compelling case against the “energy balance” paradigm, which may have inadvertently contributed to the epidemics of obesity and diabetes in the U.S. and elsewhere.

The significance of The Dukan Diet is that it’s the plan Prince William’s future mother-in-law, Carole Middleton (pictured below), is using to slim down for the Royal wedding of William and Kate. It’s also been reported that Dukan’s diet was the “magic” behind the post-pregnancy slim-downs of both Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen and American singer/actress Jennifer Lopez.

There is a very superficial similarity between these books: both advocate low carbohydrate diets as the best way to lose weight and permanently maintain the loss. But there the similarity ends and these books couldn’t be more different in background and substance. As described in our earlier story, Taubes’ work is based upon years of meticulous research and represents a synthesis of evidence drawn from the fields of biochemistry, metabolism, physiology, endocrinology, epidemiology, and clinical research.

In contrast, Dukan’s dietary beliefs and recommendations are based on i) anecdotal evidence and trial-and-error observations in his clinical practice and ii) “market validation” from sales figures of his book. In 2007 The Dukan Diet was second only to Harry Potter on Amazon France and also sold well in Bulgaria and Poland. (The book is currently only available for pre-order in the U.S. and isn’t due out until May 2011. Our copy came from Amazon UK). We could not find any publications by Dukan or about his diet among the ~20 million biomedical research articles indexed by the U.S. National Library of Medicine. The only research studies referred to in the book are “coprological studies” comparing the calorie contents of stools from individuals who have or have not eaten oat bran.

Here is an overview of The Dukan Diet adapted from the U.K. edition:

The Attack diet: Pure Proteins (no caloric restrictions) lasting about 5 days

The Cruise diet: 100 unlimited foods (72 from animals, 28 from plants), lasting three days for each pound you want to lose

The Consolidation diet: Average length of five days per pound lost

The Stabilization diet: One pure protein day every Thursday for life; No more lifts (elevators) or escalators, and 3 tablespoons of oat bran a day.

If you’d like more information on the four phases of Dukan’s diet, there’s a review and critique on WebMD.
If you think The Dukan Diet is irrelevant to your practice, check the copy of People Magazine that’s probably sitting in your waiting room. We strongly recommend that you put a couple of copies of Why We Get Fat in your waiting room as well. The diet that Taubes recommends (the What To Do About It part of his book) is from the Duke University Lifestyle Medicine Clinic.

Nutrition and Weight Loss