Friday, May 4, 2012

Taking a Break

std, chicago department of health, twitter, social media, health communication
CDC TweetChat on STDs
Courtesy Chicago Department of Public Health
As you can tell, I've been away from my page for awhile. I stopped posting here for several reasons, one of them being a renewed focus on writing in my "Health Communication Source" on WordPress.

Currently, I'm working for the Latino Research Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

I also TA for Boston University's Health Communication Graduate Course.

I am still very active with the American Public Health Association, serving as the Communication Chair for the Health Administration Section (keep an eye out for our new YouTube Channel I'm designing). 

Finally, I am also volunteering at the Chicago Department of Public Health.

Needless to say, I haven't had the time to post here.  I'm still active on other channels so feel free to connect with me on Google+, LinkedIn, @reedmonseur on Twitter, Instagram and my Health Communication Google Community.


Thursday, September 8, 2011

The New City Farmer's Diet - You Can Eat Cereal for Dinner!

This morning found me starving for a fulfilling breakfast and my typical morning fare of cereal, fruit, and coffee was just getting old.  Looking for a menu change, I opened my fridge and re-discovered that I had made a salad last night for dinner consisting of romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, red cabbage, baked chicken, olive oil and an acai-pomegranate infused red wine vinegar...good enough!

While eating last night's dinner for breakfast this morning, my girlfriend was just staring at me as if I have lost my mind and asked, "what are you doing?"  "Eating my dinner for breakfast.  I'll eat my breakfast for dinner," I quipped.  And then it hit me - who made up all these rules for breakfast?

Diets come and go and I have noticed that the most popular diets (i.e., the ones that make the most money for the authors of these diets and not necessarily the most effective for losing weight) are the ones that have a series of steps and have a catchy name.  Basically, these authors create a complex system of eating food during certain times, that have "x,y,z" nutrients that stimulate "a,b,c" hormones that alter "1,2,3" metabolic processes.  Sure, to a point, this may be true, but a healthy diet does not have to be this complicated.

While I understand the great influence of foods on health, the human body is not "wired" for eating cereal only in the morning.  Since the end of the Paleolithic Era (about 10,000 years ago), nutrition research has made a full dietary circle back to this caveman's diet, which has been determined to have many health benefits .  This diet (also known as the Paleo diet, Stone Age diet, or hunter-gatherer diet) is an agrarian dream that is rich in unprocessed fruits, vegetables, nuts, natural meats and fish.  It mostly excludes legumes, grains, dairy, oils, and sugars.  It is these lacking nutrients that makes this type of diet controversial to most experts. No whole grain cereal and dairy for Fred Flinstone, et al.

Cereal made its debut in the U.S. in 1863 by Dr. James Caleb Jackson, but it wasn't popular until W.K. Kellogg and his brother Dr. John Harvey Kellogg accidentally discovered Corn Flakes and fed it to their patients. Also, one of their patients, C.W. Post, loved it so much, he created his own cereal.  Kellogg and Post cleverly marketed and packaged their cereals, but it wasn't considered breakfast food in U.S. until its popularity in Europe filtered in after World War II.  Nothing in cereal's history ever stated that it must be eaten for breakfast.  I rest my case.

American Gothic Photo
Courtesy of the
Art Institute of Chicago Museum
I have often read that farmers used to eat a very large breakfast of meats, grains, dairy, fruits, and vegetables in anticipation of their labor intensive day.  Probably where the steak and eggs for breakfast comes from.  Fueling with a high calorie meal for a long day of work in the field made sense to these farmers, so why aren't we doing the same?

In contrast, the city dweller's diet is the reverse of the farmer's diet.  We city folk, on average, eat little to no calories in the morning.  We sit all the way to work (as evidenced by Chicago's daily grid lock), sit in front of a computer all day, and conveniently order lunch to go.  We steadily ramp up the calories as the day progresses, and end the day with a calorie-dense dinner, and for what?   In anticipation of a rough night of checking e-mail, watching cable, and sleeping?

OK, this may not apply to everyone, especially those with children.  But parents reading this should refrain from sending me comments because statistics show that most kids now are likely to be overweight and parents are one of the likely causes. Read more from the journal Lancet how by 2020, 75% of the U.S. will be overweight if trends continue unabated.

But don't lose hope!  I have now created an "uncontroversial" diet by adding dairy, whole grains, and olive oil to the old farmer's diet and renamed it
"The New City Farmer's Diet" and without further ado, here are the steps:

Step 1.  Breakfast
An energy dense, all natural meal that is typically eaten for dinner. (~1,000 calories)

Step 2.  Lunch
A medium all natural calorie meal. (~500 calories)

Step 3.  Dinner
A low calorie meal of whole grain cereal, low fat dairy, and fruit - basically breakfast. (~300 calories)

Step 4.  Snacks & Fluids
Sprinkle in some nuts, water, coffee, wine and/or beer. (~200 calories)

Step 5. Exercise
You can't be healthy without it - get over it and exercise daily.

Step 6. Repeat

My girlfriend said I should write a book on this.  I just wrote it!   See steps one through six.  It's more of a handout than a book, but it has all the makings of a best seller - it has steps and a catchy name.

I could have added a gazillion more steps, conjured up some exotic scientific explanations, and inferred nutritional research to validate my madness, but I'm way too lazy.  It's hard to make money off of a diet handout though, so print this out and mail it to me and I'll sign the copy for you, but please enclose a check for $19.99 for shipping and handling charges.

Friday, July 29, 2011

A Flaming Barbecue Can Fizzle Your Health

There are a few great summer aromas that make me wish summer would never end.  The soothing, sweet aroma of freshly cut grass and the electric scents after a lightening storm.  But the very best smell that only summertime can provide is the mouthwatering, smokey flavor of a barbecue.
While walking home through my neighborhood, I often see a neighbor's hibachi bellowing with smoke.  On this one particular day, I noticed his unmanned grill practically on fire engulfing his chicken, which actually looked like briquettes themselves.

This brought to mind a family of compounds that are created when flames char any type of meat, called heterocyclic amines (HCAs).  It simply occurs when amino acids (the building blocks of all types of proteins) are burned at high temperatures for a prolonged time.  It is also found in cigarette smoke, so that should give you an idea of its potential for causing disease.

Photo courtesy of Frettie
Numerous research studies have determined that consuming charred meat increases cancer risks (like stomach, pancreatic, and colorectal cancers).

The American Cancer Society addresses this in their "A Backyard Chef's Guide to Healthy Grilling" website and warns against over cooking meat.

Even the National Cancer Institute has a "Fact Sheet" on cooking meat at high temperatures.

There are several things you can do that may decrease the risk of forming HCAs without altering that barbecue flavor we all want.  Enjoy a healthier summer barbecue with these tips:

1. Don't eat red meat. OK, I had to throw that in. It is known that decreased red meat consumption, regardless of cooking method, has been shown to decrease cancer risks.

2  Grill veggies or fruit with meat. If you are going to grill red meat or any other types of meat, try lightly charring onions, mushrooms, peppers, pineapples, eggplant, summer squash, or tomatoes on the side.  The charred veggies and fruit flavor will definitely complement any meat and they do not form HCAs when grilled.

3. Marinade. Marinades have been shown to decrease HCAs by up to 90% depending on the type of meat as well as the type of marinade. Try olive oil, raspberry vinegar, beer, and/or wine.  Darker beers are best.  The meat should marinate in a refrigerator for at least 6 hours.  Avoid using marinades with a lot of fructose sweeteners because they can form HCAs.

4.  Spice up your marinade.  Spices that offer the best protection against HCAs are ginger, rosemary, and turmeric.  There are also numerous health benefits associated with spices.  Cloves, oregano, rosemary, thyme, cinnamon, and turmeric are known for having the highest antioxidant levels for spices.  A study from the Journal BioScience determined spices preserve food from microbial growth, especially garlic, allspice, and oregano, which inhibit 100% of bacterial growth.

5. Choose very lean meats. Less fat equals less fat drippings igniting the flames to reach the meat.  Don't forget that this also means that you must remove the skin from chicken.  A Harvard study found that men who previously had prostate cancer that ate chicken with the skin on were twice as likely to get a relapse or their condition worsened because of HCAs.

6. Foil wrap. Before lighting up your grill, cover the grating with aluminum foil and punch small holes through it so that the fat can drip away. This not only prevents flames from touching the meat, but also prevents the flares caused by dripping fat.

7. Precook in a microwave. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends precooking the meat in a microwave for a couple minutes to reduce HCAs. Remember to immediately place the microwaved meat on the grill.

8.  Use a thermometer.  Cook meat above 145 degrees but less than 300 degrees.  Use the chart from Food Safety as a guide for recommended meat cooking temperatures.  Remember that lower heat means that the cooking time will increase.

9.  Trim the char.  If you become distracted while grilling and burn the meat, trim any portion of the meat that is blackened before eating.

By the way, don't make all these recommendations if you are an invited guest to a barbecue.  More than likely, a man will be at the helm, wearing his BBQ apron as his badge of courage, and he may be completely offended by any one of these recommendations.

Remember, "Never try to teach a pig to sing.  It wastes your time and annoys the pig" (Anonymous).

Lead by example by showing off your skills at the next barbecue that you host.  Have a happy and healthy summer barbecue!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Marketing Fruit to Kids Should be a "Sticky" Situation

Cuties, the California mandarin brand selling two varieties (Clementines and Murcotts), have figured out how to corner the market on selling fruit to kids.

Kudos to them on taking on the challenge when so many food manufacturers believe that only highly processed foods are the only way to sell food to kids.  Fruit marketing gets a bad rap since it is believed that the lowly fruit cannot be repackaged or reformulated to look or taste better to appeal to the finickiest of eaters - kids.

I first noticed Cuties while grocery shopping last year, but they have been around for 10 years, according to their website.  They can be found in the fruit section of most grocery stores, but these are in a cleverly packaged bag or sold individually.  It's obvious that they are marketed for parents to buy, and for kids to eat.

I asked Salina, a second grade teacher if she had ever heard of these mandarins.  She told me that most of her kids eat these mandarins for their mid-day snack and that she has been finding the skins all over her classroom everyday for the past couple of years.  How can this be?  No candy wrappers, no chewing gum, no snack cake crumbs...but mandarin skins?  Really?

Salina tells me that the kids love them for many reasons like their small size, sweet taste, easy to peel skin, and no seeds. But the same can be said of seedless grapes or bananas. How come kids aren't bringing these fruit into the classroom?

Aha, it's the stickers!  She says the kids go crazy over them, trading them, sticking them on their face and arms, and just plain having fun while eating the mandarins.

The stickers are clever like "U R A Cutie, "Valentine Cutie," or my favorite for the holidays "Seedless Greetings." Just check out the Cuties website and you will notice a cleverly designed smiling mandarin with a partly unzipped skin.  What is really clever is their website along with their online online store selling Cutie paraphernalia.  Cuties hats, games, athletic gear, soccer balls, even the stickers!

It did not take long for me to start noticing billboards, television commercials, and an all out marketing assault on a daily basis.  Their TV commercial tag line is just as sticky - "Kids love Cuties because Cuties are made for kids."

Check out one of their commercials on their Facebook Page.

In a time when people are extremely concerned about marketing sugary cereals and fast food to kids because of the rise in childhood obesity, this is a welcomed change towards healthier options.  Each Cutie packs 40 Calories, 0.25 g Fat, 200 mg Potassium, 8.5 g Carbohydrates, 2 g Fiber, 0.5 g Protein, Zero Saturated and Trans Fat, Zero Added Sugars, 145% of the RDA for Vitamin C, and on and on.  You'll never see these numbers in a cookie!

I wonder now if the sticker for the Chiquita banana woman should have an extreme makeover?  Lets call her banana-fanna-fo-quita and have her dancing to The Name Game.  Or how about getting rid of those silly UPC stickers on apples, how boring.  Let's get creative for the sake of our children's health.  As for Cuties, great job.  You have me sold, and I don't even have any kids!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Knowing Your A, B, C’s…and D!

One of my pet peeves is when the media thouroughly confuses the masses when they report on health news.  Sometimes we just don’t learn lessons from the past.

Recently the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released its new Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) for Vitamin D and Calcium. The IOM press release was poorly written to begin with. After reading the media reports about IOM’s new DRI’s, it was obvious that everyone is confused.

The Wall Street Journal reported that we should take more Vitamin D and calcium, while the New York Times reported that Vitamin D is harmful and calcium is not needed. Who should I believe now?

I want to remind you of a similar situation that happened 10 years ago with Vitamin C.

In March of 2000, research by Dr. James Dwyer found that Vitamin C thickened arterial walls and may be tied to increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Vitamin C helps make collagen, a matrix of proteins that help support artery walls. Vitamin C thickens arterial walls to make them stronger.

Dr. Dwyer confused arterial wall thickening with the inside diameter of the artery where the blood travels through.

He corrected his mistake four years later by determining that Vitamin C prevented atherosclerosis by thickening arterial walls, preventing heart attacks and stroke.

Unfortunately, the media reported on the dangers of Vitamin C but never investigated the validity of the study or followed up on the new study.

Now, back to the IOM report. They were mainly trying to establish safe lower, average, and upper limits because of the amount of fortified and enriched foods, supplements, and inaccurate blood tests.  They didn’t want us to take none or more, but they did warn about taking too much of both Vitamin D and Calcium.

They established this for 13 different age groups and lactating women. Vitamin D and Calcium daily intake levels were increased for some and lowered for others.

Still confused? Now you know why. The best advice is to just don’t take more than the upper limits. I recommend that you don’t just read headlines when it comes to your health and look up all sources of information.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Starbucks Strawberry Vivanno™ Smoothie - Winner of Summer Drink Wars

The winner of our unintended McDonald's vs. Dunkin' Donuts vs. Starbucks Summer Strawberry Fields Drink War!

starbucks, smoothie, strawberry, banana, vivanno
One day, Salina and I were walking to Starbucks and...wait...she'll give you all the glorious details later on.  So, I relied on Salina's judgement and granted her the highly coveted opportunity to crown the winner of our unintended Summer Strawberry Drink Contest!  I'm here to give you my brief nutritional opinion.

First, the stats on the nutrition in order of our visit:

dunkin donuts, doughnuts, smoothie, coolatta
1.  Dunkin' Donuts Strawberry Fruit Coolatta Medium (24 fl oz):
440 Calories, Total Fat 0g, Cholesterol 0g, Sodium 60mg, Total Carbohydrates 108g, Fiber 0g, Protein 1g, Vitamin A 0%, Vitamin C 80%, Calcium 2%, Iron 4%.

INGREDIENTS:  Frozen Neutral Base [Water, Neutral Base (Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sugar, Monopropylene Glycol, Sodium Benzoate added as a preservative, Malic Acid, Cellulose Gum)], Strawberry Coolatta Concentrate (Strawberry Puree, Water, Sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Lime Juice Concentrate, Lemon Juice Concentrate, Red 40).

McDonalds, McCafe, Smoothie
2. McDonald's McCafe Strawberry Banana Smoothie Medium (16 fl oz):
260 Calories, Total Fat 1g, Cholesterol 5mg, Sodium 40mg, Total Carbohydrates 60g, Fiber 3g, Protein 2g, Vitamin A 2%, Vitamin C 90%, Calcium 8%, Iron 8%.

INGREDIENTS:  Low Fat Yogurt:  Cultured Grade A reduced fat milk, sugar, whey protein concentrate, fructose, corn starch, kosher gelatin. Contains active yogurt cultures. Strawberry Banana Fruit Blend:  Strawberry puree, banana puree, water, sugar, concentrated apple juice, contains less than 1% of the following: cellulose powder, natural (botanical source) and artificial flavors, xanthan gum, citric acid, colored with fruit and vegetable juice, pectin, ascorbic acid (preservative). Ice.
Source and

Starbucks, coffee, Vivanno, smoothie, fruit
3. Starbucks Strawberry Vivanno Smoothie Grande (16 fl oz):
280 Calories, Total Fat 2g, Cholesterol 0mg, Sodium 115 mg, Total Carbohydrates 54g, Fiber 6g, Protein 15g, Vitamin A 6%, Vitamin C 90%, Calcium 15%, Iron 10%.

INGREDIENTS:  A nourishing blend of natural strawberry puree, a whole banana, milk, whey protein and fiber powder, and ice.

Now, I tasted each one (actually I had one sip).  Technically, the Dunkin' Donuts Coolatta is not a smoothie since no yogurt or milk was added, but all three of these places are competing with each other in the summer strawberry drink wars, so they were included. My quick summation prior to looking at the ingredients and nutrition is that Dunkin' Donuts and McDonald's drinks were the sweetest.  The Coolatta reminded me of those 7-Eleven Slurpees and after looking at the ingredients, it probably should be called one!  The Coolatta has the highest calories, highest sugar content, and the least natural ingredients.  The Vivanno tasted like something you would make at home and literally tasted very light and airy.  Seriously, if I were to make a smoothie at home, I wouldn't pull out Red #40 and ask Salina, "Honey, where did you put the high fructose corn syrup and xanthan gum?"

For best taste and nutrition, my bet is on the Starbucks Vivanno!  Better balance of carbs, protein, and fat, real ingredients, doesn't weigh you down with sugar and calories, and is a real refresher for this hot Chicago weather. If you had a real sweet tooth and cared just a little about nutrition, choose the McDonald's Smoothie, but if you don't care about your health and wanted to take yourself back to looking like a kid by having your lips and tongue dyed red like Bozo the clown, choose the Dunkin' Donuts Coolatta!

Now for Salina's take on  the Summer Strawberry Fields War...

I'll start by saying that when I have a craving for something sweet, you better watch out!  I will eat the same thing over and over again, and will drive out of my way to get the craving satisfied.  So, on this particular day, satisfying the craving for a smoothie was a huge priority.  Unfortunately, Raed is often the victim of my cravings, being forced to drive around town with me until I find what I want.

This particular craving began with a commercial and a billboard.  McDonalds has a new smoothie and has been marketing it like crazy.  Lately, everywhere I look, I see McCafe Strawberry Smoothie signs and pictures.  That set me off.  So, after seeing the commercial again, I decided to make one at home, but with only a slightly brown banana, rotting berries (I swear I was planning to eat the fruit I bought), and no yogurt, I was resigned to grab Raed and head out for a smoothie.  Since we are close to a Starbucks, I figured we could take a nice walk and satisfy this smoothie craving.  It was HOT outside, and as we appraoched Starbucks, the thought of a cool, refreshing, fruity drink had me speed walking like a grandma in a shopping mall!  Raed noticed first.  The lights were out.  How could this be?  Starbucks?  Closed???  NO!!!!!!!!  Sensing I was about to have a meltdown... literally...Raed in his genious mode, said, "There's a Dunkin' Donuts down the street.  Don't they have something similar?"  So, with a hopeful grin, I perked up and took his hand as he led me to Dunkin' Donuts.

When we walked in, I became very excited about getting my Strawberry Coolatta.  I mean, the drink just sounds fun.  It's like a dance from the the Coolata!  And since I love the 80s, I was bound to love the Coolatta.  I watched the Coolatta making man pump some red syrup into a cup.  I was skeptical at that point.  Even though I love sweets, I don't like to actually know how much processed food and chemicals are in those sweets.  Then, Coolatta man went to a yogurt type machine and I watched as ice, similar to that of a slurpee, was poured into the cup.  He blended the mixture and handed it to me with a big smile.  I sipped....mmmm....yummy.....VERY sugary and sweet!  It was cool and refreshing.  It also made my tongue and teeth bright red, so I could smile like a six year old at Raed.  I knew something this sugary and sweet could not be healthy, but the craving was cured...or so I thought.

Later that day, we were on the road and saw several more McDonalds and signs for their new Strawberry Smoothies.  I started thinking that while there were what looked like strawberry seeds in my Coolatta, there wasn't the yogurt and little chunks of real fruit I was craving. Actually, I don't think there was anything real in my Coolatta, except real yummy!  I began my whining, which is typical when I have a craving, and Raed pulled into the next McDonalds he saw.  Personally, I think it was just an excuse to get fries and a Diet Coke, but I'm not complaining.  He ordered my Strawberry Banana Smoothie.  I took a sip...bliss!  It was so delicious and made the Coolata seem like a cheap frozen popsicle.  I could taste the real fruit and it was definitely smooth.  It wasn't as sugary as the Coolatta, and it was creamier.  At this point, the McDonalds Strawberry Banana was a winner.  I was very happy and my teeth didn't even change color!  Raed was also happy, as I was not whining.

On the drive, as I was sucking down the last of my smoothie, making loud annoying sounds to get every last bit of smoothie (I wouldn't want to waste a good thing), we began dicussing the idea of tasting Starbuck's version of a smoothie and comparing the three.  Of course, I said, "Yes!"  After all, I'd be doing it for the good of the people.  It's important for me to taste all these smoothies, so that people can make informative decisions when they have smoothie cravings.  So, because I wanted to help others who might have this same dilemma in the future, I committed to tasting the Starbucks Vivanno Smoothie.

The next day, we ventured to the nearest Starbucks in the name of "do-gooding."  I ordered my Strawberry Vivanno Smoothie and waited with anticipation at what it would bring.  Since I had originally wanted a smoothie from Starbucks, I was hoping to be blown away by the yum factor.  As always, the staff was super friendly and within a couple minutes, my smoothie was waiting on the counter.  It looked less pinkish red than the other two, which I think was due to the fact that it was truly all natural.  There wasn't any red dye # such and such.  I took a sip and it was creamy and cool, with a lighter taste of fruit. It definitely tasted like something I might blend up at home.  It was delicious and could taste the fruit chunks.  It wasn't as sweet as the McDonalds Smoothie, but I suppose that is because I wasn't being fed a bunch of artificial sweeteners.

The winner?  Starbucks Strawberry Vivanno Smoothie!  It was creamier than the McDonalds, and not as sweet, but it was lighter, refreshing, and much healthier.  If you are ok with some artificial sweeteners, then you might like the McDonalds smoothie better.  If you are a slurpee lover, then Dunkin Donuts' sugary Coolatta is for you.  If you are looking for a  healthy, cool, refreshing, natural fruity smoothie, then Starbucks is definitely #1!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Time to Eat the Doughnuts!

Doughnuts.  The word just conjures up a smile.  As a kid, I used to eat a couple at a time.  Now that I am older and more calorie conscious, I do not eat them as often as I used to.  But when I buy a coffee, I start to reason in my mind how much better this coffee can get.

I always avoid trans-fats so it was hard to find a "healthier" doughnut.  Now Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kream all claim that their pastries are "all natural."  No more high fructose corn syrup and no more trans-fatty acids, but that "natural" fat and sugar are all still intact!  But how about the calories?

Well, I did a little research on my favorite type of doughnut, the glazed cake doughnut and this is what I came up with:

Starbucks Old Fashioned Galzed Doughnut = 420 Calories
Dunkin Donuts Glazed Cake Donut = 320 Calories
Krispy Kream Glazed Cake Doughnut = 270 Calories

Starbucks surprised me, to say the least.  There is no harm in treating yourself to life's guilty pleasures once and a while.  Reward yourself occasionally for a job well done at work, family, or life.  I will have to run a 12 minute mile for 30 minutes to burn 270 calories or minus 270 calories from my diet, but it may be just worth it.  Now I have to find a Krispy Kream to go to after I get my coffee from Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Break the Fast

Please, if anyone is trying to manage their weight, do not skip breakfast.  The old excuse of skipping the calories has been proven to be detrimental to your health.  Studies show that people that eat breakfast live longer, weigh less, have a better BMI, etc, etc, than if one skipped breakfast.

Break down the word breakfast...break are breaking the fast you just had, since your last meal was about 10 hours ago (assuming your last meal was no later than 8 PM and you wake up at 6AM).  Why would you take it further by starving yourself another 4 hours?  And no, coffee does not count.

You need the fiber, calcium, and Vitamin D found in an average bowl of "adult" cereal (seriously, if you're still eating Fruit Loops and Count Chocula, you have bigger problems), all of which have been proven to increase the likelihood of normal weight.  So just take 10 minutes to pour a cup of cereal into a bowl with some 2% milk, soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, or whatever and enjoy!

By the way, this one goes out to my wife!