Are Foods With Printed Health Claims Really Better?

These days you almost need a Rosetta Stone to decipher the health claims on food package labels. Do you ever wonder if foods marketed with such claims actually are healthier? Researchers overseas asked that question—and gathered data on the matter.

Their study, published in the July 13 issue of European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2016.114), evaluated 2,034 prepackaged foods either with or without health-related claims in Germany, The Netherlands, Spain, Slovenia and the United Kingdom. The researchers found that “foods carrying health-related claims have marginally better nutrition profiles than those that do not carry claims. . . . It is unclear whether these relatively small differences have significant impacts on health.”

Data revealed that except for sodium reduction, differences were marginal at best. For example, products with health claims, per serving, had 29 fewer calories; 3 grams less sugar; 2 g less saturated fat; 842 milligrams less sodium; and 0.8 g more fiber.

IDEA Fitness Journal, Volume 13, Issue 11


by Sandy Todd Webster on Oct 20, 2016

The Happy-Meal Effect: Can Less Food (Plus Prize) Motivate Better Choices?

It’s becoming clearer that unlocking the complexities of human behavior, especially food motivation, can impact good and poor health. In a profound paradox, who would ever have thought the McDonald’s Happy Meal model could be so instructive?

Researchers led by Martin Reimann, PhD, of the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management, set out to see whether people would opt to eat less if food were paired with a nonedible bonus—comparable to a nonfood toy in a Happy Meal.

In a series of seven experiments, the research team demonstrated repeatedly that kids and adults would often decline larger portions when given the choice of a smaller portion paired with a very modest nonfood bonus. In fact, just the possibility of getting a “prize” incentivized people to forgo larger portions.

According to a University of Arizona press release, in one experiment 78% of sixth-graders passed up a full sandwich when given the option to take a half sandwich plus a set of dollar-store earbuds. In another, university staff and students were significantly more likely to choose half-portion lunches when they were paired with the chance of winning a $100 gift card or 10,000 frequent-flier miles.

Results gathered from multiple studies showed not only that nonfood incentives reliably encourage people to choose smaller portions, but also that

  • when rewards are not guaranteed, knowing the odds of winning can be less motivating than simply knowing that winning is a possibility, even when the odds are relatively good;
  • the same reward can motivate time and again (in one experiment the chance of winning a gift card or frequent-flier miles worked for 3 days straight);
  • participants choosing smaller portions don’t compensate for missed calories by eating more the next day; and
  • smaller portions paired with bonuses/potential prizes activate the same reward, desire and motivation areas of the brain that “light up” for full portions, as shown by fMRI testing.

While there were some notable anomalies, the takeaway is clear: Nonfood rewards—both guaranteed and uncertain— make people significantly more likely to choose less food.

Says Reimann, assistant professor of marketing at Eller, that fact swings open a compelling door of possibilities for personal and social change. “Overconsumption makes people unhealthy and unhappy,” he says in the news release. “Yet trying to regulate consumption by law threatens people’s sense of freedom to choose. If non- food rewards, even small and uncertain ones, can be just as engaging at a neurochemical level, then restaurants can potentially motivate healthier choices without jeopardizing sales, and consumers have more paths to avoid overeat- ing. In general, these studies open up a whole new matrix of ways we might begin to change unhealthy food cultures and behaviors.”


Source:  by Sandy Todd Webster on Feb 18, 2016

The article appeared in the June 2015 issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied.

Eating in Sync with Your Body Clock May Help Curb Fat Gain

(Reuters Health) – Timing meals relative to your own body clock, rather than to the time of day, may affect how lean you are, researchers suggest.

Studies have shown that eating later in the day ups your risk of weight gain. However, the impact of a person’s body (biological) clock – independent of the time of day – has not been tested until now, according to Dr. Andrew McHill of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and colleagues.

“Our findings could be considered a reason not to eat right before going to sleep, but they’re also a reason not to eat later in the evening, even if you are planning to go to bed at a later time,” McHill told Reuters Health by email.

The team recruited 110 college students ages 18 to 22 (about 60 percent male) for a 30-day study of sleep times and food intake.

The students completed questionnaires about their sleep habits at the outset of the study, as well as daily electronic sleep-wake and exercise diaries. They also wore motion monitors throughout the study to help track sleep-wake timing.

For one week during the study, participants used a mobile phone app to time-stamp, document and record their food intake during their regular routines.

They were also evaluated for one night at the hospital to see what time their level of the hormone melatonin began to rise – which marks the beginning of a person’s biological night – and to assess their body composition (i.e., muscle mass and fat).

Melatonin onset timing was similar for both lean participants and those with a higher percentage of body fat, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study, online September 6.

However, those with a higher percentage of body fat – 8.7 percent higher in women and 10.1 percent higher in men – ate most of their calories about an hour closer to the time of melatonin onset than did lean participants.

There was no relationship between body composition and when (clock hour) they ate, how many calories they consumed, what kind of food they had, their exercise or activity level or sleep duration.

“While it’s not possible to know the timing of your melatonin onset without having it measured very precisely in dim lighting, we tend to think that melatonin levels rise about two hours prior to habitual sleep onset,” McHill explained.

What about waking up and eating a snack in the middle of the night?

“This would also be a time when melatonin is high and your body clock is promoting sleep and fasting,” he said, “so we would consider that a time that food consumption could lead to higher body fat if done repeatedly over a long period of time.”

McHill cautioned that the findings don’t show cause and effect. To do that, he said, “randomized controlled trials that include altering the timing of meals of the exact same food content in relation to melatonin timing (e.g., providing meals within four hours of melatonin onset or restricting calories to when melatonin concentrations are low) are needed.”

It’s also important to study groups other than college students, and the team has already begun to track meal timing in older and ill populations.

Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding, a nutritional epidemiologist at Harvard Chan School of Public Health in Boston who was not involved in the study, told Reuters Health he agrees that “the takeaway is that eating earlier before bed may be better” – perhaps as much as 4 to 5 hours earlier.

However, “actual experiments to show direct long-term weight loss and health benefits from consistently eating earlier before bed are needed,” he added by email.

“Be vigilant of your food intake as time to sleep approaches,” Dr. Jocelyn Cheng, a neurologist at NYU Langone Health in New York City urged in an email to Reuters Health.

“If you notice yourself eating more during this period compared to earlier in the day, consider redistributing your meals, snacks included,” said Cheng, who was not involved in the study.

Source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, online September 6, 2017.