Diet Detective: Nutrition News You Can Use

Try Losing Weight with Friends It's Contagious

Researchers from The Miriam Hospital's Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center and The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, both in Providence, R.I., found that teammates in weight-loss competitions influence each other. According to researchers, team members "not only achieved similar weight-loss outcomes, but the participants who said their teammates played a large role in their weight loss actually lost the most weight."

It makes sense research has demonstrated that obesity (and eating with others) can be contagious, so why not the opposite? The best way to get involved with team weight loss? Use online team-based weight-loss interventions like this or try forming a group at work.

For Babies, Finger Foods May Be Better than Pureed Food

According to a study by researchers at The University of Nottingham, England, "Babies who are weaned using solid finger foods are more likely to develop healthier food preferences and less likely to become overweight as children than those who are spoon-fed pureed food."

The babies in the finger-food group preferred carbs such as fruits and vegetables, whereas the spoon-fed group was mostly interested in sweets.

The results of the study suggest that "infants weaned through the baby-led [finger food] method learn to regulate their food intake in a way which leads to a lower BMI and a preference for healthy foods" such as fruits and vegetables. The full report, "Baby knows best? The impact of weaning style on food preferences and Body Mass Index in early childhood in a case-controlled sample," can be found here.

Overweight? Eat the "Right" Carbs and Reduce Inflammation

According to a study by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, eating healthy carbs such as whole grains, legumes and other naturally high-fiber foods significantly reduces markers of inflammation called C-reactive proteins, which are associated with an increased risk for many cancers as well as cardiovascular disease. These high-quality, "low-glycemic-load" foods do not cause blood sugar levels to spike and help regulate the metabolism of fat and sugar. Lentils or pinto beans, for example, have a glycemic load about three times lower than that of instant mashed potatoes, and, therefore, won't cause blood-sugar levels to rise as quickly.

The researchers also found that a protein hormone called adiponectin is created when eating high-quality carbs. "This hormone plays a key role in protecting against several cancers, including breast cancer, as well as metabolic disorders such as type-2 diabetes, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and hardening of the arteries."

Don't Eat to Please

When you're a guest at someone's home, trying to eat healthy can be particularly difficult. However, if you're a people-pleaser who strives to keep your social relationships smooth and comfortable, it will be even more difficult for you to say "no" to your host's homemade apple pie or freshly purchased cupcakes. A study from Case Western Reserve University found that, hungry or not, some people eat in an attempt to keep others comfortable.

"But even if people-pleasers overeat in order to keep others comfortable, they may pay an emotional price. Those who overeat in order to please others tend to regret their choices later. It doesn't feel good to give in to social pressures," say the study researchers.

Here's how the study was done: Participants were seated with an actor who was posing as a second participant in the study. "The experimenter handed a bowl of M&M candies to the actor, who took a small handful of candies (about five) before offering the bowl to the participant. After taking the candies, participants reported how many they took and why. Researchers also assessed the number of candies taken. High sociotropy (people-pleasing) scores were associated with taking more candy, both in this laboratory experiment and in a second study involving recall of real-life eating situations."

What should you do if you're a people-pleaser? Practice refusal skills. Think about how you can say "no" in a nice way. Mentally rehearse this BEFORE you get to the event. Practice over and over again in your head until you feel ready. Teach yourself to remain firm.

Lack of Sleep Makes Your Brain Hungry

New research from Uppsala University in Sweden, reported in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, shows that not sleeping enough affects your appetite. In fact, a specific brain region that contributes to a person's appetite sensation is more activated in response to food images after one night of sleep-loss than after one night of normal sleep. Poor sleep habits can, therefore, affect people's risk of becoming overweight in the long run.

White Plates Might Help You Lose Weight

We've already learned from Brian Wansink at Cornell University that choosing the right size for your bowls and plates could help you eat less. "The bigger your dinnerware, the bigger your portion. If you use larger plates, you could end up serving 9 percent to 31 percent more than you typically would."

Now a study appearing in the Journal of Consumer Research indicates that another way to reduce "bowl bias" is through color &mdaSH; such as changing the color of a tablecloth or a plate. "In a field study, participants were asked to serve white-sauce or red-sauce pasta on either a large white or a large red plate. On average, changing the color of the plate so it was high contrast reduced how much people served by 21 percent, and changing the color of the tablecloth reduced how much people served by 10 percent."

Bottom-line: Reduce the size of your plates and try using plain white dishes so you can see the foods you're eating.

Seeing Red Could Help Reduce Snack Intake

Researchers at the University of Basel, Switzerland, found evidence that the color red pushes you to avoid snack foods and soft drinks. Try putting your snacks and soft drinks in red containers. Hmmm, what about those red cups college students use to drink beer at parties? Maybe college students are too inebriated to notice.

Cranky Today? Even Mild Dehydration Can Alter Our Moods

According to study researchers "most people only think about drinking water when they are thirsty; but by then it may already be too late. Even mild dehydration can alter a person's mood, energy level and ability to think clearly. The tests showed that it didn't matter if a person had just walked for 40 minutes on a treadmill or was sitting at rest the adverse effects of mild dehydration were the same. Mild dehydration is defined as an approximately 1.5 percent loss in normal water volume in the body."

Keep in mind that you don't feel thirsty until you're 1 or 2 percent dehydrated. By then it's already affecting your mind and body performance.

The researchers evaluated vigilance, concentration, reaction time, learning, memory and reasoning. According to the study, mild dehydration causes headaches, fatigue and difficulty concentrating in young women. Participants also perceived tasks as more difficult when slightly dehydrated, although there was no substantive reduction in their cognitive abilities.

In men, mild dehydration caused some difficulty with mental tasks, particularly in the areas of vigilance and working memory. Additionally, young men experienced fatigue, tension and anxiety when mildly dehydrated.

In order to stay properly hydrated, experts recommend that individuals drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day, which is equivalent to about 2 liters of water. Also, you can get water from eating lots of vegetables and fruit. "People can check their hydration status by monitoring the color of their urine. Urine should be a very pale yellow in individuals who are properly hydrated. Urine that is dark yellow or tan in color indicates greater dehydration."

CHARLES STUART PLATKIN, Ph.D., is a nutrition and public health advocate and founder of Copyright 2012 by Charles Stuart Platkin. All rights reserved. Sign up for the free Diet Detective newsletter at