Health & Fitness

Tricks for curbing junk food cravings

Not long ago we saw a headline that perked up our spirits. It read, “Doughnut chain’s next-year forecast falls short.” Healthier days ahead, right? Wrong. Further reading revealed the fried-dough seller’s profits actually grew by 34 percent. It was just that financial forecasters thought they would do even better. People, wake up. This stuff is killing you.

“But, Doc,” you say, “I have to have it. Just one!” We know how hard it is to go cold turkey, and we want to help you get over your junk food addiction as fast as you can. Try these three tricks.

Trick No. 1: Schedule snacks two to three hours after each meal. Then you won’t get blindsided by fat and sugar cravings – that’s what a fast-food addiction is, after all. You can block those urges by eating (instead of a doughnut) plain, lowfat Greek yogurt with fresh or frozen fruit (no sugar added) or some lean protein, such as sliced turkey. This keeps blood sugar levels steady, easing cravings and helping you lose weight.

Trick No. 2: Become a label reader. Stay clear of anything with added sugars or syrups, trans or saturated fats. And beware of power/energy/nutrition bars and energy drinks: They may contain taurine, sugar, excess fats (even good fats have 9 calories per gram) and sometimes alcohol.

Trick No. 3: Choose smart sweets. Dried (prunes) or fresh fruit (cherries) gives you the sugar boost you’re looking for and benefits your bones and cardiovascular system. Nuts (walnuts, almonds) are loaded with protein and healthy, appetite-satisfying fats.


Joe Namath. Terry Bradshaw. Roger Staubach. Ken Stabler. These NFL superstars wore the number 12 and, depending on who you were rooting for, that number could be associated with some pretty bad cases of heartburn and stomachaches.

Ironically, you can lose your No. 12 – that’s B-12, a vitamin essential for making healthy blood and nerve cells, DNA and preventing megaloblastic anemia – if you’re taking a proton pump inhibitor to quell chronic heartburn or an H2RA (histamine 2 receptor antagonist) to treat a peptic ulcer. And if you take either of those meds plus the oral diabetes medication metformin, look out: 10 percent to 30 percent of folks on metformin alone become B-12 deficient.

This new health alert is the result of a recent study that found taking PPIs and H2RAs for two or more years can cause a serious B-12 deficiency, which can lead to irreversible brain damage. This happens in part because B-12 bound in food is released by hydrochloric acid and gastric protease, which are suppressed by those meds.

The good news? A blood test can ID a deficiency. If you’re taking PPIs or H2RAs, ask your doc to check. If you’re deficient, you’ll take a daily B-12 supplement and maybe get a booster shot. And you can help reverse the deficiency (the recommended daily allowance is 2.4 mcg for anyone 14 or older) by eating fish or skinless poultry (turkey has 48 mcg per serving). We don’t recommend some shellfish, especially clams (even though they have 84 mcg per serving), because of other concerns, but that’s another column.

Peanuts and pregnancy

“Peanuts” is a beloved comic strip, but in many day care centers and school cafeterias across North America, the legume is strictly taboo. That’s because peanut allergies have tripled since 1997. (Around 1.4 percent of kids in the U.S. are allergic to them.) But what accounts for that dramatic increase? Well, perhaps, like Charlie Brown repeatedly trying to kick a football that Lucy inevitably pulls away, it’s because we’ve been fooled into trying to kick the allergy by doing exactly what makes it more likely to occur.

Although in 2008 the American Academy of Pediatrics rescinded its recommendation to avoid peanuts while pregnant (saying there was no evidence to support the fear that eating them could trigger a peanut allergy in a child), pregnant women have continued to avoid eating peanuts. And that has made children more, not less, likely to become allergic to them.

A new study shows that if women who are not allergic to peanuts or tree nuts eat them five or more times a month while pregnant, their child is far less likely to develop the allergy. It appears some kind of immunotherapy is at work, and exposing the fetus to potential allergens is a way to help the baby become allergy-resistant.

So moms-to-be, take note: Peanuts are inexpensive and a great source of protein (with 7 grams per ounce), plus fiber, niacin, manganese, magnesium, vitamin E, folate, copper and phosphorus. And while walnuts are the only nut loaded with healthy omega-3 fatty acids, peanuts do have other good-for-you, unsaturated fats.

Beware thyroid boosters

When Alice, in “Alice in Wonderland,” downed the “Eat Me” pill, she immediately experienced the negative side effects of taking a med with unidentified ingredients. But her added inches (and distress) were for entertainment. When someone with a low or hypothyroid condition takes a “thyroid booster” available online or over the counter, they’re risking side effects that are as dramatic as Alice’s and a whole lot more serious – because they’re real.

Non-prescription, unregulated “thyroid supplements” can contain things like bladderwort (with unknown biochemical effects), ashwagandha (claims to ease chronic fatigue and low libido), gugulipids (to support the thyroid through the liver … hmmm?) or ingredients that are downright illegal. A new study shows they often contain excessive levels of thyroid hormones (not listed on the label).

If you’re on thyroid hormone replacement therapy (for Hashimoto’s, for example), the addition of more hormone can trigger hyper-, or overactive, thyroid and you can damage your heart and bones. Even if the “boosters” don’t contain thyroid hormones, their ingredients may interfere with your prescribed treatment.

Some folks take these boosters because they self-diagnose (never smart) and don’t get safe, effective treatment for real thyroid problems or they don’t admit their physical symptoms actually come from an unhealthy diet and too little physical activity.

Our advice: Feeling sluggish, gaining weight? Ask your doc for thyroid blood tests (for TSH and free T4). Knock the Five Food Felons out of your diet and start a walking program aiming for 10,000 steps daily.