New recommendations on nutrition; controlling sugar intake; irritable bowel syndrome

Healthy Christmas party choices

This Christmas season the nutritionists say think red wine, dark chocolate and berries for heart health. New studies show you need to watch for the calorie counts and added sugars but these foods in particular may help fight heart disease and protect the brain. Berries, including blueberries, cranberries, raspberries and strawberries are a good source of beta carotene and lutein, polyphenols, vitamin C, folate, potassium and fiber.

Red wine contains resveratrol, which has been found to lower blood sugar and LDL or “bad” cholesterol. It also is a source of catechins, which can help improve HDL or “good” cholesterol and polyphenols, which may prevent the formation of toxic plaque that leads to Alzheimer’s disease. However, when it comes to red wine the benefits only come when drinking in moderation.

Dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 70 percent or higher is rich in flavonoids, which help prevent the buildup of plaque in the arteries. Dark chocolate also boosts the immune system and contains cancer-fighting enzymes. Other items that top the list of heart-healthy foods include: nuts, fish, flaxseeds, black or kidney beans, and oatmeal. Cooked oatmeal for a breakfast porridge or used in breads or dessert is a good source of soluble fiber, niacin, folate and potassium.

Cap and trade policy for added sugars

As the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers a new food label detailing the amount of added sugars in foods, new research shows that Americans are eating more sugar than ever before. Part of the problem is many people don’t even realize it. Sugar is obviously in sweet foods, such as candy, soft drinks, sports drinks and other sweets. However, many people don’t realize added sugars also are found in pasta sauces and condiments, like ketchup and salad dressings.

A new study shows there has been an increase in added sugars consumed by American adults of more than 30 percent (228 calories per day in 1977 to 300 calories in 2009-2010) over the past 30 years. During that same time period, calories from added sugars consumed by children increased by approximately 20 percent (277 to 329 calories per day).

Currently, the FDA is pushing to include added sugars on nutrition labels, other innovative solutions include limiting the amount of added sugar allowed in the food supply, using a cap-and-trade policy, similar to those used for environmental pollutants. Researchers Kristina Lewis, MD, MPH, of the Kaiser Center for Health Research in California evaluated how cap and trade might impact caloric consumption and obesity rates, compared to other measures such as taxes on sugar or sugar-sweetened beverages.

“Cap and trade works by setting an overall limit on the ‘emissions’ of a ‘pollutant’, in this case added sugars, and then letting manufacturers in the marketplace decide amongst themselves whether to reformulate their products or buy/sell permits to ‘emit,’” said Dr. Lewis. To conduct the study, the researchers examined data on the nutritional content of food and a nationally representative data set of what Americans eat. They then determined the likely impact of a sugar cap-and-trade policy using mathematical modeling.

“We found that a cap-and-trade policy that would gradually reduce added sugar in the food supply by 1 percent per year over 20 years could significantly reduce obesity and type 2 diabetes,” said Dr. Lewis. She said the cap and trade policy has the potential to avert about $9.7 billion in healthcare spending, and may produce larger health impacts than taxing added sugars or sugar-sweetened beverages.

New guidelines for irritable bowel syndrome

New agents and a new guideline may greatly improve the quality of life for people who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It is very prevalent in the United States and affects up to 15 percent of all adults. Many people struggle to find effective drug therapy. However, a new guideline from the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) is now helping more people.

“Because no IBS therapy is uniformly effective, many patients describe a history of a variety of treatments alone or in combination. This guideline will help patients and physicians navigate the drug options,” said co-author of the guidelines Dr. Shahnaz Sultan, who is with the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System.

The guideline recommends using linaclotide and lubiprostone in patients with IBS- constipation. For patients with IBS-diarrhea, the guideline suggests using rifaximin, alosetron and loperamide. Some patients may also benefit from using tricyclic antidepressants, SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and antispasmodics.

John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio broadcaster of The Medical Minute. He can be reached at

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John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute.

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