March 17, 2008
Contact: Sarah Wally, (202) 328-7744

Nutrition Wise
Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: I’ve heard a lot of praise for the Mediterranean diet. Is it as healthy as everyone says?

A: First and foremost, the Mediterranean diet is a plant-based diet. It is particularly rich in vegetables, features fish at least two or three times a week, beans a few times a week (if not daily) and limits portions of meat, fish and poultry. Olive oil – a source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat – is promoted as an optimal choice of fat in the Mediterranean cultures. Unlike saturated fats like butter, olive oil does not raise blood cholesterol. Additionally, some studies suggest that natural compounds in olive oil may even be protective against cancer. The antioxidant compounds found in garlic, onions and herbs, all featured in Mediterranean cooking, add additional disease-fighting capabilities. It is important to remember, however, that people in Mediterranean countries historically lived physically active lifestyles and did not need to limit portions as carefully as we do today in order to control calories. To get the full benefit of a Mediterranean lifestyle, aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of physical activity daily.

Q: I just got a pedometer to help me boost my walking. But what is a reasonable goal?

A: Pedometers are small devices worn at the waist that measure how many steps you take throughout the day. A target of 10,000 steps daily (equivalent to about 5 miles) has been linked with a number of health benefits. New research suggests that adults age 50 and younger may need to reach 11,000 to 12,000 steps a day for weight control; children ages 6 to 12 may need to increase their target even more. But most Americans walk far less than even the 10,000 step goal. To gauge your baseline, start by recording your step count on a pedometer for several days without including any extra walking effort. If you’re considerably below 10,000 steps, it may be physically and psychologically easier to start with adding 1,000 steps a day to your initial starting point to create a new daily goal. After a week or so, increase your target again. Studies show that we can add quite a bit of walking to our daily lives with simple lifestyle changes like taking stairs instead of elevators or parking farther away. Still, for many of us, reaching a 10,000-step target will requires specific “walking” initiatives such as an after dinner stroll or taking the dog for a brisk walk.

Q: Is it true that the sweetener sucralose (sold as Splenda) doesn’t affect blood sugar even though it is made from sugar?

A: Yes. Changes to the chemical structure of sugar that occur during processing into Splenda prevent digestive enzymes from breaking it down. Because it cannot be processed, it does not provide calories or affect blood sugar or insulin levels. As a bonus, unlike aspartame, another no-calorie sweetener, Splenda can be used in cooking and baking. Be aware, however, that America’s love affair with sweeteners has little to do with table sugar. The more than 20 teaspoons of added sugars that we each consume daily come mainly from sweetened soft drinks, cereals, candy and bakery goods. In other words, to impact your sugar intake most profoundly, choose sugar-sweetened foods less often.

Our Mission: The American Institute for Cancer Research champions the latest and most authoritative scientific research from around the world on cancer prevention and survival through diet, weight and physical activity, so that we can help people make informed lifestyle choices to reduce their cancer risk.

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