The Keto Craze

Posted Posted in Continuing Education, Homestudy, Nutrition, Seminars, Webinars

By Dr. Laura Pawlak

Unlike any time in history, Americans are faced with an obesity epidemic.  The sensible weight-loss guidelines of a mere decade ago appear to be failing.

“The best foods to eat on a diet?  The best foods to eat to keep weight off?  The same foods you should eat when you are not on a diet, but just less of them.”  Dr. Frank Sacks, Harvard School of Public Health, 2009.

The above statement was based on the study of 48 popular diets. All diets failed to produce significant differences in sustained weight loss.

Fast-tracking to 2019, the American diet has drifted far from the standard of what should be consumed. The foods we eat are primarily processed, containing almost 90 percent of the diet’s added sugar.  Also, these foods contain too much salt, very little fiber, and lots of saturated fats.  Eating less of these foods may result in weight loss, but the body and brain remain unhealthy.

When it comes to dieting, today’s fast-changing lifestyle demands novel, quick fixes.  The hype in the latest keto diet craze is infectious:  Fast weight loss without exercise;  novel tools to measure rising ketone levels;  easy-to-find processed keto foods; and keto pills when the diet is too tough to follow.

You eat lots of fat (at 80 percent of calories), moderate amounts of protein (at 20 percent), and very few plant foods, sugar, or starch (at 5 percent).  The excess intake of calories from fat triggers metabolic, nutritional, and hormonal changes not meant to be sustained for long periods of time.  Guidance by a registered dietitian is definitely recommended.

The Atkins program proposes a moderate approach to the keto craze:  A choice of 20 percent or 40 percent of the diet as carbohydrates for a limit of one month — and progression toward more plant foods.

If weight loss is achieved on a keto diet, a major challenge still remains:  The need to maintain your lower, healthy weight with a diet that offers protection against disease — not a keto plan.

A 25-year study evaluating healthful longevity and diet, published in 2018, identified the foods you should eat for a long, disease-free life:  Consume approximately 50 percent of your calories as carbohydrates, primarily as whole plant food; eat proteins, mainly from fish and plants; and add healthy oils from olives, avocados, nuts, and seeds.


Dr. Laura Pawlak (Ph.D., R.D. emerita) is a world-renowned biochemist and dietitian emerita.  She is the author of many scientific publications and has written such best-selling books as “The Hungry Brain,” “Life Without Diets,” and “Stop Gaining Weight.”  On the subjects of nutrition and brain science, she gives talks internationally.

Nuts About Nuts

Posted Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Homestudy, Nutrition, Seminars, Webinars

By Dr. Laura Pawlak

Americans love nuts. Their passion has led to an increased consumption by almost 40 percent in the last 15 years.

Contrary to the belief that nuts are fattening, nuts are nutritious foods categorized as superfoods.  Nuts offer a wide variety of nutrients especially protective for the brain and cardiovascular system.

A trio of nutrients in nuts — healthy fat, fiber, and protein — make them a satisfying snack that won’t affect your waistline, assuming the portion size is a handful each day.  In fact, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that regular nut consumption was associated with a slightly lower risk of weight gain and Type 2 Diabetes than a diet devoid of nuts.

A caveat is noteworthy:  If the nut is adulterated, i.e. honey glazed or chocolate coated, the word fattening would be an appropriate description of the nut.

Although nuts vary slightly in nutrient content, all varieties are beneficial. Almonds are especially high in fiber.  The macadamia nut has the most fat, mostly as monounsaturated oil.  Brazil nuts are famous for their selenium content. Pecans and hazelnuts are loaded with a variety of antioxidants.  Pistachios contain more potassium than a banana.  Cashews excel in the nutrient, lutein, a protectant for your eyes.  Walnuts provide anti-inflammatory fats similar to fish oil.

The peanut, really a legume, is a valuable addition to the nut family, offering more protein than any nut.  Ground into a nut butter, this spread is a tasty alternative to butter or margarine.

Before purchasing a peanut butter, read the label.  Unnecessary emulsifiers may be added to prevent the separation of oil.  There’s no need to purchase peanut butter with added sugar even if you have a sweet tooth.  Spread plain or crunchy peanut butter on slices of a crisp apple.  Your sweet tooth will be as satisfied as your gut.

Has your doctor asked you to lower your intake of sodium?  A few brands of peanut butter are just ground, unsalted peanuts.  Here’s a suggestion for adapting your taste buds to salt-free peanut butter:  Mix a small amount of unsalted peanut butter with the regular salted version.  Over time, increase the amount of the salt-free spread until you reach 100 percent.

In my opinion, the best-tasting peanut butter is freshly ground.  Grocery stores often place a grinder and containers next to the bulk peanut supply.  Enjoy!


Dr. Laura Pawlak (Ph.D., R.D. emerita) is a world-renown biochemist and dietitian emerita.  She is the author of many scientific publications and has written such best-selling books as “The Hungry Brain,” “Life Without Diets,” and “Stop Gaining Weight.”  On the subjects of nutrition and brain science, she gives talks internationally.

The Holidays: A Time for Comfort Food

Posted Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Homestudy, Nutrition, Seminars, Webinars

By Dr. Laura Pawlak

The term comfort food can be traced back to 1966, when the Palm Beach Post used the term in a story:  “Adults, when under severe emotional stress, turn to what could be called ‘comfort foods.’  These foods are associated with the security of childhood, the relief of stress, and euphoric feelings.”

Although the identification of particular items as comfort foods may be unique to an individual, patterns are detectable.  In a study of American food choices, males preferred warm, hearty, meal-related comfort foods, such as steak, casseroles, and soup.   Females consumed snacks as comfort foods, such as chocolate chip cookies and ice cream. Young or middle-age people, under 55 years of age, overwhelmingly chose snack-related, comfort foods.

As the holidays approach, families and friends gather to share an array of comfort foods that provide nostalgic or cultural value.  These foods are often characterized by their high caloric nature, rich in (1) carbohydrate and fat or (2) fat and salt.

Consuming energy-dense food awakens a group of brain structures wired together into a reward system.  This brain circuitry elicits emotions based on the sensory experience of the food.  Comfort foods trigger pleasurable feelings — moments of joy.

The chemicals responsible for feeling good are two-fold:  endorphins, nature’s opioids; and endocannabinoids, the feel-good chemicals found in marijuana.  Sugary foods activate the release of endorphins.  Pizza, cheese casseroles, and other fatty foods spur the production of endocannabinoids.

When fat and sugar are combined, as in desserts, an explosion of both endorphins and endocannabinoids floods the brain, causing elation beyond nature’s offerings.  The temptation to overeat may be overwhelming, especially when a fond memory is linked to the food.

Enjoying holiday celebrations, without consuming excessive amounts of comfort foods, requires forethought.  A plan is helpful!  For example, set aside the day before the event as a time to eat fewer calories.  Drink water, coffee, and/or tea. Have two light meals — perhaps a fruit salad and a green salad.

On the day of the celebration, eat a healthy breakfast and add a salad if you feel hungry before attending the festivity.  At the party, take a deep breath between bites of your favorite foods.  Notice the positive memories that surface as you eat slowly.

Lastly, don’t take goodies home.  Holiday gatherings are meaningful times with friends, not just food.  Savor the season!


Dr. Laura Pawlak (Ph.D., R.D. emerita) is a world-renown biochemist and dietitian emerita.  She is the author of many scientific publications and has written such best-selling books as “The Hungry Brain,” “Life Without Diets,” and “Stop Gaining Weight.”  On the subjects of nutrition and brain science, she gives talks internationally.

homestudy

A Unifying Moment

Posted Posted in Continuing Education, Nutrition, Psychology, Seminars, Webinars

Thousands of people have had one goal for the past two weeks. Included were Navy Seals, professional divers, engineers, rescue specialists, medical personnel, and logistics experts from around the world. These individuals have focused on one objective: saving 12 young boys and their soccer coach from a flooded, underground cave in Thailand. The resulting real-life drama has surpassed any possible storyline in a work of fiction.

The young team set out on June 22, 2018, for soccer practice when torrential rain and flash-flooding stranded them. They were reported missing, but dangerous storms and difficult terrain hampered searches. As the days passed, hope of their survival faded. Undeterred, two British cave divers navigated a 2.5-mile cavernous tunnel one- half mile underground. They were astonished to look up and find the boys and their coach still alive. News of their miraculous find spread across the world.

Intensive planning for the daring and dangerous rescue began with offers of help from around the world. Experts from the United States, Great Britain, Australia, China, Japan, France, Denmark, and other countries converged on the scene with elaborate equipment and supplies. Communication lines, medical supplies, clean water, high-energy food supplements, and oxygen tanks were painstakingly positioned. Deep, murky, filthy water combined with passages only 15 inches in spots complicated efforts. A group of Buddhist monks kept a prayer vigil at the rescue site, and millions of people from around the world prayed for success.

Sadly, during a practice run to position oxygen tanks, a 38-year-old former Thai Navy Seal died when his own oxygen ran out. His heroic efforts were acknowledged with full military honors at his funeral. Heartbroken but determined to succeed, the rescuers pushed onward.

On Sunday, July 8, the threat of monsoon rains, dropping oxygen levels, and rising carbon dioxide levels in the cave forced a decision to proceed. The boys would have to learn how to swim and scuba dive “blind” in a matter of hours. The boys themselves decided who among them would go first. The painstaking rescue plan brought four boys out on day one. Every available oxygen tank along the 2.5-mile trek was used. After a 12-hour interval to replenish and restage oxygen tanks, four more boys were guided to waiting medical teams. Another overnight effort to replenish and restage supplies unfolded.

Finally, on July 10, news that the remaining four boys and their coach had been rescued spread around the globe in minutes. It was a unifying moment of joy and relief for the world. The courage and composure of everyone involved was a testament to the human spirit. When people cooperate for the good of others, personal, political, and cultural differences melt away in pursuit of a noble endeavor. Bravo!

More Healthy Bread, Maybe Not!

Posted Posted in Continuing Education, Homestudy, Nutrition, Seminars, Webinars

By Dr. Laura Pawlak (PhD)

The vast variety of breads available in supermarkets and bakeries reflects the unquenchable appetite of Americans for this grain-based food.  Breads labeled as “whole grain” appear to be a smart way to add fiber to your diet.

Whole grains improve regularity, slow digestion, reduce appetite, improve cholesterol, and prevent spikes in blood sugar — a major driver of obesity, high blood pressure, and Type 2 diabetes.

A whole grain bread uses the entire grain seed:  the bran (an outer layer with fiber, antioxidants, and B-vitamins); the endosperm (the middle layer of starchy carbohydrates); and the germ (the inner core, which has vitamins, minerals, some protein, and a drop of oil).

Commercial whole grain breads differ in the relative amount of whole grain content in the product.  A simple calculation, called the “10 to 1 Rule,” can guide you in choosing healthy whole grain breads:  Using the nutrition facts on the label, identify the grams of total carbohydrate and fiber.  Divide the total grams of carbs by 10.  Is there at least that much fiber stated on the label?  If so, it is considered a healthy bread.

But wait, there’s something more to consider before purchasing a whole grain bread.  Andrew Weil, M.D., an expert in Integrative Medicine, states:  “A true whole grain food retains all three parts of the seed intact.  A recent government study linked the fiber found specifically in intact whole grains to a longer, healthy life, that is, a lower risk of death at any age from conditions such as cardiovascular, respiratory and infectious diseases and possibly some cancers.”

To make bread, the intact whole grain is ground into flour.  Some of the physical properties that promote good health are less effective when whole grain seeds are processed into flour.

There are many tasty, intact whole grains available, including: amaranth; barley; brown rice; buckwheat; bulgur; cracked wheat; farro; kamut; kasha; millet; oats; quinoa; rye; wheat berries; and wild rice.  Use intact whole grains as side dishes or stuffing, in soups, stews, and salads — and as a hot, breakfast porridge.

Despite research reporting some differences in the positive effects of intact whole grains as compared to processed (ground) whole grain flour, here’s the most important message:  Aim for at least three servings of whole grains every day, including cooked, intact whole grains, whole grain cereals, and whole grain breads.  Enjoy!

Chocolate: A Smart Food

Posted Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Homestudy, Nutrition, Psychology, Seminars, Webinars

By Dr. Laura Pawlak

There is universal agreement that chocolate is a feel good food.  Chocolate melts in your mouth, releasing its sweet, creamy, cocoa flavor, and the brain follows with a burst of “happy” chemicals.

Beyond the sensory joy of eating chocolate, there are claims that chocolate is a healthy food for the brain.  Most of us would gladly eat more chocolate if proven to benefit the brain.

Several ingredients in cocoa have been proposed to explain the possible cognitive benefits of chocolate.  Cocoa contains caffeine, a substance that enhances cognitive functioning and alertness.  Major nutrients have also been identified in the cocoa bean.  Presently, studies focus on the chemical group called flavanols.

Flavanols are micronutrients found in many fruits and vegetables, especially the fruit called the cocoa bean, the basis of chocolate.  Flavanols have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties — important for brain health.

Small studies, often supported by chocolate manufacturers, state that the cocoa flavanols can boost mood and cognitive performance — as well as blood flow to the brain.  Researchers are now evaluating the significance of these small studies by conducting large, clinical trials using a cocoa extract with known flavanol content, not chocolate.

A dose of 600-750 milligrams of flavanols is considered healthful for the brain.  To obtain this dose, you would have to consume 4.75 ounces of dark chocolate, a total of 750 calories, or 40 ounces of milk chocolate, which has 5,850 calories.

A day with adequate flavanols from commercial chocolate is also a day heavy in sugar, saturated fat, and calories — not a formula for a sharp brain.  Perhaps future studies examining chocolate’s healthful ingredients in the cocoa extract will provide more healthful ways to capture the goodness of the cocoa bean.

Meanwhile, manufacturers divert your focus from calories to health by presenting chocolate paired with a superfood, the avocado.  Called a health food, the Avocado Chocolate Bar is made of freeze-dried avocado pulp powder, 70 percent dark chocolate — plus added sugar — and has nearly 600 calories.

The bar is a convenient, but calorie-laden, snack.  The alternative — consuming whole, fresh plant food — is always a good choice for the brain.

My suggestion:  Eat dark chocolate in moderation if you like it, not because you think it will make you smarter.  For added flavanols, focus on the abundant amounts of this nutrient in grapes and berries.  Enjoy!


Dr. Laura Pawlak (Ph.D., R.D. emerita) is a world-renowned biochemist and dietitian emerita.  She is the author of many scientific publications and has written such best-selling books as “The Hungry Brain,” “Life Without Diets,” and “Stop Gaining Weight.”  On the subjects of nutrition and brain science, she gives talks internationally.

Water: The Fountain of Youth?

Posted Posted in Continuing Education, Homestudy, Nutrition, Seminars, Webinars

By Dr. Laura Pawlak

Based on the fact that about two-thirds of the body is composed of water, it seems obvious that consuming water is important for health.  Water requirements have been studied for decades.  Recommendations are narrowed to two alternatives:  Consume a minimum of eight cups of liquid per day or drink to quench thirst.

Research now reveals that drinking water when feeling thirsty boosts the brain’s performance in mental tests.  Dr. Caroline Edmonds, the author of a lead study, found that reaction times were faster after people drank water, particularly if they were thirsty before drinking.

Drinking more water than normally consumed is associated with a reduced intake of calories and sodium.  The study, led by Prof. Ruopeng An, showed that people who increased their consumption of plain water by one to three cups daily lowered total energy intake by 68-205 calories each day and their sodium intake by 78-235 grams per day.

A popular trend these days, alkaline water is promoted as a healthier choice than plain water. Several brands of alkaline water are available or machines can be purchased that make alkaline water.

Proponents claim that alkaline water kills cancer cells, banishes belly fat, lubricates joints, protects bone density, reduces acid reflux, and improves hydration.  What scientific evidence lies behind these claims?  Despite the promotion of alkaline water by the manufacturers of the product and by the media, there is very little research either to support or disprove the claims.

The pH of water is neutral, a pH of 7.  Chemicals and gases can alter the pH of water.  For example, rainwater’s pH is slightly below 7, as carbon dioxide in the air dissolves in the water and increases acidity.

Water that is too alkaline (pH above 7) has a bitter taste.  It can cause deposits that encrust pipes and appliances.  Highly acidic water tastes sour and may corrode metals or even dissolve them.  Fortunately, as the kidneys filter blood, the pH of blood and all cells are rebalanced close to neutral, avoiding any unhealthy effect of liquids or foods that raise or lower pH.

Citrus fruits are named for their citric acid content, but don’t be fooled by that fact.  Citrons, lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruits — all citrus fruits — produce alkaline byproducts once digested. So, you can squeeze juice from a lemon or other citrus into plain water and make your own alkaline water.  Enjoy!


Dr. Laura Pawlak (Ph.D., R.D. emerita) is a world-renowned biochemist and dietitian emerita.  She is the author of many scientific publications and has written such best-selling books as “The Hungry Brain,” “Life Without Diets,” and “Stop Gaining Weight.”  On the subjects of nutrition and brain science, she gives talks internationally.

Nourish Your Friendly Bacteria

Posted Posted in Continuing Education, Homestudy, Nutrition, Seminars, Webinars

By Dr. Laura Pawlak

In a society of anti-bacterial warfare, who would imagine scientists touting the benefits of consuming foods fermented by living microorganisms?

The organisms are called probiotics, which means “for life.”  Identified on the skin and within the body, these beneficial microbes are part of a community of healthful and harmful micro-organisms called the microbiota.  Most probiotics are located in your gut, particularly the large intestine (colon).  Probiotics aid the digestion and absorption of food, improve immune function, overpower harmful gut microbes, and rebalance the microbiota following antibiotic therapy.

Research continues to demonstrate the versatility of these friendly critters. Potential benefits of probiotics have been seen in the treatment of gut discomfort and diseases of the gastrointestinal system.  Other benefits are treatments of vaginal and urinary tract infections.

Probiotics also release vaporous chemicals into the blood system.  Scientists are investigating the healthful effects of these metabolic products throughout the body and  brain — from fetal life through the elder years.

You can improve the number and diversity of probiotics in your gut.  Eating probiotic-rich foods is the first way to shape the makeup of your intestinal microbiota.  Fermented dairy products, such as yogurt, kefir (a fermented milk drink), and some cheeses are major sources of probotics.

Consuming a variety of fermented foods enhances microbial diversity and potency. Include sauerkraut, cider, miso, tempeh (a soy product that originated in Indonesia), buttermilk — or yogurt and kefir made from nondairy sources.  Grapes and grains, which are popular probiotics, can be fermented into wine and beer!

Another way to impact your gut microbiota positively is to eat foods that “feed” the probiotics in your gut.  Called prebiotics, foods with a high-fiber content have a positive impact on the growth of probiotics, but not on the harmful bacteria.  All plant foods contain fiber, but the fiber in whole grains improves the diversity of the probiotics — especially whole wheat and whole barley.

There is some evidence that good quality oils and certain nutrients in plants may also help probiotics to thrive.  The typical Western diet — low in fiber and high in sugar, saturated fats, and processed foods — feeds harmful microbes.  Probiotics are not associated with such negative consequences.

Although the fermentation of food and beverages is an ancient custom, the scientific analysis of the many probiotic species and strains is just now unfolding.  In the future, healthful longevity will certainly include adding more friends (probiotics) to your gut and feeding them well (prebiotics.)


Dr. Laura Pawlak (Ph.D., R.D. emerita) is a world-renown biochemist and dietitian emerita.  She is the author of many scientific publications and has written such best-selling books as “The Hungry Brain,” “Life Without Diets,” and “Stop Gaining Weight.”  On the subjects of nutrition and brain science, she gives talks internationally.

Drink Coffee, Live Longer?

Posted Posted in Continuing Education, Homestudy, Nutrition, Seminars

By Dr. Laura Pawlak

A coffee plant can live 100 years.  Could humans extend their lives closer to a century by enjoying a cup — or more — of the brew each day?

Coffee beans are seeds of a red fruit called the coffee cherry.  Like all plant foods, coffee beans contain more than a thousand healthful chemicals.

The benefits of drinking coffee are pretty impressive.  The roasted bean has been shown to enhance brain function, increase metabolic rate, and improve exercise performance.  Used to make a daily beverage, the bean has also been linked to a lower risk of dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, liver disease, and some cancers.

Several studies have found that men who regularly consumed the most coffee (including decaffeinated) had a 60 percent lower risk of advanced or lethal prostate cancer than nondrinkers.  Even drinking one to three cups per day was linked to a 30 percent lower risk.

However, the coffee bean also contains a potentially harmful chemical called acrylamide.  In 2002, Swedish scientists discovered that acrylamide was a product of the browning reaction.  When foods are heated at a high temperature during baking, broiling, frying, or roasting, the appearance, flavor, aroma, and texture of foods are enhanced by the browning reaction — as in toasted bread, French-fried potatoes, and roasted coffee.

The amount of acrylamide in coffee can vary greatly.  Well-roasted, dark coffee beans have less of the chemical than light, roasted beans.  All instant coffees have more acrylamide than fresh versions.

There is no way to remove all the acrylamide from coffee.  Still, the coffee industry is working on practical solutions to reduce its presence.  Should buyers be informed about this chemical with warning labels on the package?  This question is currently being debated in the California court system.

Presently, Americans consume less acrylamide than the maximum exposure levels recommended by the European Food Safety Authority.  To top it off, two recent studies in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that coffee drinkers have modestly lower mortality rates than people who don’t drink coffee.

The Food and Drug Administration’s best advice regarding acrylamide is that consumers adopt a healthy eating plan.  The Wellness Letter, University of California, Berkeley, states:  “There is no reason to deprive oneself of coffee if you like the lift it gives and the sociability it affords.”  If coffee affects you adversely, tea is another popular beverage linked to many health benefits.


Dr. Laura Pawlak (Ph.D., R.D. emerita) is a world-renown biochemist and dietitian emerita.  She is the author of many scientific publications and has written such best-selling books as “The Hungry Brain,” “Life Without Diets,” and “Stop Gaining Weight.”  On the subjects of nutrition and brain science, she gives talks internationally.

That Time Of Year Again: Cold and Flu Season

Posted Posted in Continuing Education, Nutrition, Seminars, Webinars

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

It’s that time of the year again.  It’s that awful season when nearly every third person you encounter looks and feels miserable.  Headache, fever, cough, congestion, myalgia, and malaise signal flu season is in full force.  Health officials are already proclaiming this (2017-18) the worst flu outbreak in over a decade.  Considering the dreadful natural disasters of 2017 and record-breaking cold temperatures across two-thirds of the nation, we shouldn’t be surprised.  Every year flu outbreaks spike shortly after the holidays, and the travel, stress, sleep deprivation, and crowds associated with the holidays.

A few time-tested, common sense measures may help protect you, your loved ones, colleagues, and patients:

  • Wash your hands. Wash your hands.  Wash your hands — thoroughly and often.  Hot, soapy water is best, but hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes come in handy at the grocery store or in the car.
  • Avoid touching your face, especially around your eyes, nose, and mouth. These areas can serve as an entrance ramp for viruses.  Try to resist the temptation.
  • Increase your fluid intake. Bitter cold temperatures combined with heat from furnaces and fireplaces increase insensible fluid losses (fluid lost from skin and breathing).  The resulting dry mucus membranes are not only uncomfortable, but they’re more vulnerable to viral penetration.  Water is best here.
  • Get more sleep than you think you need. A single night of inadequate sleep can compromise lymphocyte numbers and function.  Give your immune system the restorative time it needs to protect you.
  • Don’t overextend yourself. Most folks are already tired from the holidays.  Give yourself some downtime before you have no choice in the matter.
  • Avoid crowds like the plague. Contagion is partly a numbers game.  No one has to go to a crowded movie theater or restaurant.  Stay home and clean out a closet.
  • Consider getting a flu shot now. So far this year (2018), the efficacy rating is not good.  But, some protection is better than none.  Remember, antibody production will take about two weeks after the shot.

And — finally — if you do get the flu, please stay home.  There is nothing noble or heroic about spreading influenza to colleagues and patients.

In the meantime, stay warm and well.  I have to go wash my hands now.