Week of April 5, 2010
Contact: Alice Bender, (202) 328-7744

AICR HealthTalk
Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: On an upcoming cruise, how will I be able to avoid gaining the weight I’ve recently lost?

A: Cruises can pose a challenge to weight control because they usually offer a wide range of rich foods, day and night. Your mindset plays a key role. Focus on the cruise as a time to relax and explore new places and activities, instead of the food. As you’ve lost weight, hopefully you are learning to control portions and not basing the amount you eat on how much food is available. With so much food, look over the buffet choices before you start making selections; take what you want most and leave the rest. Satisfy your hunger by choosing low-calorie fruits and vegetables for a third to a half of each meal. Drinks can flow abundantly on cruises and those calories add up quickly. Limit alcohol, soda, juice and sweetened tea carefully; instead opt for water, club soda or unsweetened tea most of the time. Finally, take advantage of on- and off-ship opportunities to stay active. Between swimming, dancing, shipboard exercise facilities and lots of walking on shore, you should easily be able to add up an hour or more a day of physical activity.

Q: Is flaxseed an effective way to reduce blood cholesterol?

A: Clinical studies show widely varying results of flaxseed on total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels. Overall, summary analyses suggest that three to seven tablespoons of ground flaxseed daily may reduce LDL cholesterol about 4 to 10 percent in people with elevated cholesterol levels, or an average of about 6 milligrams/dl according to one analysis. Scientists have not yet identified what accounts for the wide variation in results; sometimes those with higher blood cholesterol seem to benefit more, but not always. And the reduction in cholesterol reached after a month of use is not always maintained long-term. However, animal studies and limited human studies suggest that flaxseed could act in other ways to reduce heart disease risk. Natural compounds called lignans in flaxseed are powerful antioxidants, which could decrease tendency for plaques to form in blood vessels (“hardening of the arteries”). Flaxseed also contains omega-3 fat, which can decrease inflammation and decrease the growth of blood vessel blockage. Flaxseed oil is also a popular supplement, however, studies don’t support cholesterol-lowering or heart health protection from this oil. Be sure to check with your doctor before beginning daily flaxseed if you take fish oil or EPA + DHA supplements or anticoagulant medicine. If you do take flaxseed do so one hour before or two hours after any prescription or non-prescription medicine to avoid a decrease in your absorption of the medicine. Finally, if you’re considering daily flaxseed, remember that four tablespoons of ground flaxseed contain about 150 calories. So substitute it for some other food, or the 15 or so pounds you’d probably gain after six months to a year would likely increase health risks rather than promote good health.

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