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Can You Afford a Healthy Diet?

For most of us, the answer to that question is “probably” even though the popular perception is that healthy eating is much more expensive than the cost of typical, and often unhealthy diets. A new report from the Harvard School of Public Health found that the additional cost to assure prudent nutrition is surprisingly low. The researchers looked into the actual costs of a healthy diet compared to what you would pay for the unhealthy ones so prevalent in our society. They analyzed 27 studies from 10 higher income countries to determine the costs of individual foods and then compared prices for healthier vs. unhealthy diets. The Harvard team calculated the differences in price per serving and per 200 calories for certain foods as well as the cost of 2,000 calorie daily diets, both healthy and unhealthy. They even assessed the costs per calorie of foods in both diets. Bottom line: the cost of pursuing a healthy diet amounts to only $1.50 per day more than the cost of consuming an unhealthy one. Here are some details: healthier choices for meat and other protein foods cost only 29 cents more per serving than the unhealthy ones, the cost of healthy snacks was only 12 cents more and the price differential for fats and oils was only two cents more for healthy products.

My take? This analysis goes a long way towards refuting the myth that healthy eating is much more expensive that the unhealthy western diet, and shows that the cost per person is likely less than that of a designer drink at Starbucks. However, the Harvard team did not include the additional cost per day of an organic diet, which I recommend, or the time requirements of healthy preparation methods. When organically grown fruits and vegetables don't fit your food budget, I suggest avoiding the ones that are most heavily contaminated by pesticides and other chemicals, and stick to those that are least likely to be contaminated. You can get that information at, the website of the Environmental Working Group. I also suggest comparing the cost of organic fruits and vegetables to other types of food, as the Harvard team did. You may find that the cost per serving is quite reasonable compared to that of some snack foods and some prepared foods. And, they're much better for you.

Eating Anti-Inflammatory Made Simple
Take the guesswork out of a healthful diet with Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging. Our shopping and eating guides, over 300 recipes, tips and videos follow Dr. Weil's recommended anti-inflammatory principles for promoting better health, from head to toe. See what it's about - start your free trial today and save 30% when you join!

Mayuree Rao et al, “Do healthier foods and diet patterns cost more than less healthy options? A systematic review and meta-analysis”, BMJ Open. 2013 Dec 5;3(12):e004277. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2013-004277.


What Food Do You Consider Your Greatest Source of Acrylamide? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed the dangers of fried foods and the toxic compound called acrylamide: Do Fried Foods Cause Cancer? Check out the article and tell us which food you eat that is the greatest source of acrylamide.


Reprogramming Inflammation with Meditation

We know that over time chronic, imperceptible, low-level inflammation can contribute to serious, age-related diseases including heart disease, cancer and neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. A new study from the University of Wisconsin shows that meditation can actually affect the genes that cause inflammation. Researchers measured the effects of a day of intensive mindfulness meditation in a group of experienced mediators and compared them with those of quiet, non-meditative activities by a group of untrained volunteers. After eight hours of meditation, the researchers found altered levels of gene-regulating compounds and reduced activity levels of the pro-inflammatory genes in the experienced meditators. These changes were correlated with faster physical recovery from a stressful situation, the investigators explained. They reported that these findings are the first to show that mediation can inhibit production of proteins by some genes that cause inflammation and noted that at the study’s outset there were no differences in the genes tested in both groups. They also reported that the positive changes were seen in genes that are the targets of anti-inflammatory and pain killing drugs.

Perla Kaliman et al, “Rapid changes in histone deacetylases and inflammatory gene expression in expert meditators”. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 40, 96–107


The Orderly Chaos of Nature (Video)

Drawing upon his botanical knowledge and experience, Dr. Weil discusses the superiority of whole medicinal plants over isolated chemical compounds. He shared his view with participants in the 5th International Congress on Complementary Medicine Research, which took place in Norway.

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Why You Shouldn't Ever Quit Exercising

Here’s another good reason to continue exercising as you get older: it helps keep muscles strong and protects against sarcopenia, an age-related disease resulting in the loss of skeletal muscle mass and muscle strength or function that can lead to disability, poor quality of life and premature death. Researchers at Tokyo University assessed the prevalence of sarcopenia and its effects on physical performance in 1,000 Japanese men and women, age 65 and older enrolled in an ongoing study of osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. The investigators measured the participants’ handgrip strength, gait speed, and skeletal muscle mass and collected information on their midlife exercise habits. They found sarcopenia in 13.8 of the men and 12.4 of the women, but the condition was less prevalent in study participants who reported exercising in middle age. In addition, the researchers said that midlife exercise was significantly associated with measures of grip strength, gait speed and one-leg standing after adjusting for age, sex and BMI. The study was presented at the International Osteoporosis Foundation Regionals 4th Asia-Pacific Osteoporosis Meeting, in Hong Kong December 12–15, 2013.

Get exercise and healthy eating tips when you join Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging.


How Much Sugar Is Too Much?

A new analysis from England puts the recommended sugar limit at five percent or less of your total daily intake of calories. Be aware that total includes all the “free sugar” in your diet – the sugar you put in your coffee or tea, and the amounts added to foods in cooking - in addition to the sugar contained in processed foods such as honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit concentrates. According to the report from Newcastle University, limiting intake to five percent (about five teaspoons for most people) can help protect your teeth from decay and minimize the risk of cavities for life. Previous estimates of sugar limits were based on the average risks of developing decay in three or fewer teeth in 12-year-olds, the Newcastle researchers noted, adding that by looking at patterns of tooth decay in populations over time “we now know that children with less than three cavities at age 12 go on to develop a high number of cavities in adulthood.” The new estimate is based on looking at data on dental caries and sugar intake gathered from studies across several decades. The researchers said that sugary foods that used to be an occasional treat are now staples in many people’s diet, and that while fluoride protects against tooth decay, it does not eliminate the cause – dietary sugars.

My take? Virtually all Americans consume too much sugar. In addition to being bad for the teeth, sugar may predispose some women to yeast infections, may aggravate some kinds of arthritis and asthma, and may raise triglyceride levels. In people genetically susceptible to developing insulin resistance, high-sugar diets may drive obesity and high blood pressure and increase risks of type 2 diabetes. Although conventional medical studies haven't shown that sugar causes hyperactivity in children, in many cases limiting sugar intake improves kids' behavior and attention. Recent research also indicates that sugar, rather than saturated fat, is the primary culprit in America's high rates of cardiovascular disease. It is important to bear in mind that sugar's negative impact on health can slowly, insidiously accumulate over the years. The best way to satisfy a sweet tooth is with foods that contain sugar as part of a whole food, such as fresh or dried fruit, because the sugars are bound in a matrix of fiber that slows digestion and limits rapid increases in blood glucose.

Paula J. Moynihan and Sarah A. M. Kelly. “Effect on Caries of Restricting Sugars Intake: Systematic Review to Inform WHO Guidelines”. Journal of Dental Research, 2013; 93 (1): 8 DOI: 10.1177/0022034513508954


How Often Do You Suffer From Insomnia? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed the relationship between insomnia and depression: Does Insomnia Cause Depression? Check out the article and tell us how often you suffer from insomnia.


Dad’s Diet Key for Healthy Kids

We have known for some time that adequate folate (vitamin B9) in women’s diets can protect against miscarriage and birth defects in their babies, but a new animal study suggests that a father’s folate levels may be just as important. The research from Canada’s McGill University concluded that men eating high-fat, fast food diets or who are obese may not be able to use or metabolize folate in the same way as those with optimal levels of the vitamin. Working with mice, the researchers compared the offspring of fathers with insufficient folate in their diets with the offspring of fathers whose diets contained sufficient folate levels. They observed that a folate deficiency in the male mice was associated with an almost 30 percent increase in birth defects of various kinds in their offspring, compared to the offspring of fathers with diets containing adequate folate. Foods containing folate include spinach, green vegetables and beans as well as fortified products such as orange juice, baked goods, and cereals. Other natural sources of folate include asparagus, bananas, melons, lemons, legumes, yeast, and mushrooms.

Sarah Kimmins et al, "Low paternal dietary folate alters the mouse sperm epigenome and is associated with negative pregnancy outcomes," Nature Communications 2013; 4 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms3889