Research update: Social smoking may be just as risky as regular smoking

Think a cigarette only once in a while keeps you clear of the health risks associated with smoking? Think again. A study published in May 2017 found that people who self-identified as “social smokers” had the same level of risk for hypertension (high blood pressure) and high cholesterol as people who identified as “current smokers.” Hypertension and high cholesterol are both considered risk factors for heart disease.

The Study

Researchers surveyed 39,555 people in community settings on self-identified smoking status (current smoker, social smoker, or non-smoker), blood pressure, and total cholesterol. They found that social smokers had a significantly higher risk of having hypertension and high cholesterol than non-smokers, but not than current smokers. The researchers concluded that there was no difference in the prevalence of hypertension or high cholesterol between the social smoker and current smoker groups.

Limitations

The study, although interesting, is wrought with limitations. For one, the amount of smoking was self-reported – a method of data collection that is notoriously unreliable. For example, it’s possible that people who characterized themselves as social smokers actually smoke more than they think.

Second, past smoking behavior was not noted. So social smokers could have had a history of smoking more even though they currently smoked only socially.

Third, the researchers did not control for other aspects of the participants’ lives such as diet and exercise, which, potentially, could have significantly skewed the study.

And, last, the researchers looked only at hypertension and high cholesterol, which do not by themselves mean someone has or will get heart disease.

Conclusion

Despite the study’s many flaws, I have no doubt that social smoking does increase the risk of health problems associated with smoking. Any time you expose yourself to harmful chemicals, there’s some risk. And social smoking should certainly be discouraged. Whether social smokers are really at as much risk as regular smokers, though, is still up for grabs in my book.

You can find the study here, and another brief summary here.

Thanks for reading!

 

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Research update: Increased muscle strength may help protect against osteoporosis regardless of gender and ethnicity

Nearly 10 million adults in the United States have osteoporosis – a condition where the bones have deteriorated to such a point that the person is at a significantly increased risk of fracture and mortality. Experts expect this number to increase by 30% by 2030. The estimated national cost of osteoporosis-related injury and treatment in 2008 was $22 billion. Due to the widespread impact of osteoporosis, we could all benefit from reducing the occurrence of this condition.

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Health review: Turmeric – the superfood of superfoods??

After literally thousands of years, Turmeric seems to have emerged from it’s curry cocoon and made its way into the limelight as a top superfood. From teas to broths to face masks, turmeric is making its appearance all over the supermarket and social media. But what’s all the hype really about, and is turmeric really all that it’s touted to be? Find out here!

Spoiler alert: Turmeric appears to have many potentially enormous health benefits. While there have been thousands of studies on Turmeric or one of it’s major components  – curcumin – many of these studies have been performed on animals, making it difficult to extrapolate to humans.

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Activity trackers: Worth the investment?

Nearly 50 million wearable activity tracking devices (e.g., Fitbit, Apple watch, etc.) were shipped in 2015, and that number is expected to grow to 125 million by 2019. These wearable devises were also rated as the number 1 top fitness trend in 2017 by over 1,800 health and fitness professionals. But, are these devices actually successful at motivating consumers to live healthy, active lifestyles in the long-term? In other words, at anywhere from $100 to $1000+ a pop, is wearable technology really worth the investment?

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Research update: No such thing as “healthy obese”

Along with the uptick in the “beauty at any size” mentality has arisen the concept of “healthy obesity.” I’m a huge proponent of self-love and building confidence through health and fitness. But I’m not going to sugar coat a major health epidemic or tell any one that it’s ok to be obese, and now the science supports that.

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To walk or to run, that is the question

I get this question all the time – “Do I have to run?” It’s no secret that many of us do not like, or rather loath, running. It tends to be one of those love it or hate it types of exercises. I personally enjoy running, but not enough to run a marathon or even to run every day. And according to the research, you don’t have to! That’s good news for those of us who prefer other activities to running. For example, briskly walking has the same (if not more) benefit to running when compared mile-to-mile. Continue reading “To walk or to run, that is the question”

Carb cycling: do or don’t?

First it was Paleo, then it was Keto. Now it’s carb cycling. With all of the ever-changing diet must-dos (and don’ts), how do we determine if any one theory is good or bad for us? In this article, I’m going to talk about carb cycling so that you can decide for yourself whether it’s a do or a don’t. If you’re struggling to lose weight, it may be worth trying to see if it works for you (bearing in mind that everyone’s body is different and responds differently to various diets).

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Potatoes: Healthy or unhealthy?

Potatoes are the world’s comfort food and, over the years, have gotten a pretty bad rap, mainly because they are starchy and relatively high in carbohydrate. But are potatoes unfairly frowned upon and avoided by the health and fitness industry?

A Little History

First, let’s take a look at some notable historical points about potatoes.

  • Potatoes originated in South America 4,000-7,000 years ago. Because potatoes were able to thrive at high altitudes, they became a staple food source for natives living in the Andean mountain region.
  • Spanish explorers introduced potatoes to Europe in the early 1500s.
  • The Spanish used potatoes to treat scurvy, a condition caused by a severe lack of vitamin C.
  • Because potatoes were inexpensive to produce, they became a staple crop in Ireland.
  • Aside form Ireland, potatoes were slow to be accepted by the rest of the world, but today are one of the most popular foods.
  • Pound for pound, Americans consume more potatoes each year than any other vegetable.

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Before getting into whether potatoes are healthy or unhealthy, let’s take a look at their nutritional profile.

Objective Data: Nutritional Profile

Nutritional information is obviously going to vary based on the serving size you’re talking about. If you google potato nutritional information you will get all sorts of different numbers. For our purposes here, I’m calling one serving a medium russet potato — about 173 grams, 2.25″-3.25″ in diameter, or about 1 cup. 

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Bare in mind, most of us probably have a portion larger than that serving size. See the photograph above for comparison. My bet is that your average baked potato is closer to the 220g or 300g size.

Medium Russet Potato, 173g

Total Calories: 169

  • Total fat: 0.2 g (1.8 calories / 1% of total calories)
    • 0.1 g saturated
    • 0.1 g polyunsaturated)
  • Total carbohydrate: 37 g (148 calories / 87.6% of total calories)
    • 4 g dietary fiber
    • 1.9 g sugar
  • Total protein: 4.5 g (18 calorie / 10.7 % of total calories)

Other Nutrients

  • Cholesterol: 0 mg
  • Sodium: 1% daily value / 24 mg
  • Potassium: 27% daily value / 952 mg
  • Calcium: 3% daily value
  • Iron: 10% daily value
  • Magnesium: 13% daily value
  • Vitamin B6: 30% daily value
  • Vitamin C: 64-70% daily value
  • Also a good source of manganese, phosphorous, copper, thiamin, niacin, and folate
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Comparisons

  • A 1 cup serving of navel orange has 81 calories, 27 g of carbohydrate (14 g of which are sugar), 2 g of protein, and 163% daily value of vitamin C.
  • A 1 cup serving of banana has 133 calories, 34 g of carbohydrate (18 g of which are sugar), 1.6 g of protein, 21% daily value of vitamin C, and only 15% daily value of potassium.
  • A 1 cup serving of leafy greens has only 7 calories, but also only 14% daily value of vitamin C, 4% daily value of iron, 5% daily value of B6, 4% daily value of potassium, and 6% daily value of magnesium. In other words, to get the same amount of B6, for example, as a potato, you would have to eat 6 cups of leafy greens. 1 cup of leafy greens does, however, have a whopping 56% daily value of vitamin A.
  • A 1 cup serving of chicken breast has 231 calories, 0 g of carbohydrate, 43 g of protein, 39% daily value of cholesterol, 40% daily value of B6, but only 10% and 8% daily value of potassium and iron respectively.

In other words, 1 cup of potatoes have a fraction of the sugar in 1 cup of oranges and bananas as well as significantly more potassium. Potatoes have significantly more vitamin C, iron, B6, potassium, and magnesium than leafy green vegetables, but also significantly more calories. Lastly, potatoes have a fraction of the protein in chicken, but less calories, no cholesterol, almost the same amount of vitamin B6, and greater amounts of iron and potassium.

So… are potatoes healthy or unhealthy?

According to the objective data, i.e. nutritional profile, potatoes are moderate in calories, low in fat, high in carbohydrate, and high in various vitamins and minerals. Furthermore, potatoes have NO cholesterol. The moderate amount of fiber and protein in a potato aid in feeling full and satiated. In fact, there’s some evidence that potatoes reduce appetite more than other high carbohydrate foods like pasta. Another study found that consuming 6-8 small purple potatoes, which are high in antioxidants, may help lower blood pressure and risk of heart disease.

So what’s the problem? Problems arise when potatoes are fried and/or consumed with other high-calorie foods like butter, cheese, and sour cream. But when we take away these unhealthy or high-calorie elements, we’re left with one very nutrient dense vegetable that potentially offers many health benefits. Of course, the amount of calories and carbohydrate consumed from potatoes should be calculated into your daily consumption (as all food sources are). But all-in-all potatoes are a healthy source of fiber, potassium, and other vitamins and minerals.

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As always, feel free to like, comment on, and share this article if you found it interesting, informative, or helpful!

Research update: Link between exercise, vitamin D, and lower risk of heart attack and stroke

We’ve known for a while now that exercise and adequate vitamin D individually can reduce risk of heart attack and stroke. A new study by researchers from Johns Hopkins now suggests that the combined effects of exercise and adequate vitamin D are even greater than either working alone. Even better, they found that exercise and vitamin D levels are positively and directly related meaning more exercise = more vitamin D.

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