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THE DIET DETECTIVE A COLUMN BY CHARLES STUART PLATKIN

Fish getting an unfair rap?

Other foods, drinks have mercury, too; more fitness questions answered.

Saturday, October 19, 2013 - 12:01 am

Here are answers to common fitness questions:

Is mercury really a problem in fish?

Hmmm. Now I’m confused. Researchers from the University of Bristol suggest that fish accounts for only 7 percent of mercury levels in the human body. The researchers analyzed 103 food and drink items consumed by 4,484 women during pregnancy and “found that the 103 items together accounted for less than 17 percent of total mercury levels in the body.”

According to the researchers, “after fish (white fish and oily fish) the foodstuffs associated with the highest mercury blood levels were herbal teas and alcohol, with wine having higher levels than beer. The herbal teas were an unexpected finding and possibly due to the fact that herbal teas can be contaminated with toxins.” The authors concluded that advice to pregnant women to limit seafood intake is unlikely to reduce mercury levels substantially.

What is mercury? It’s a trace element found in rocks that occurs naturally in the environment and can also be released into the air through industrial pollution. In the water, it turns into methylmercury and poses a threat to the developing nervous systems of unborn children, infants and young children. But fish also provide many vital nutrients, especially omega-3 fats (a nutrient we are not capable of producing on our own), which help the IQ and eyesight of the developing child. Many fish also are high in protein and low in saturated fat.

Fish with the highest mercury concentrations (according to the FDA and EPA) are shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. Five of the most commonly eaten low-mercury types of seafood are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish. Another commonly eaten fish, albacore (“white”) tuna, contains more mercury than canned light tuna.

Are your wine glasses making you fat?

Researchers Doug Walker, Laura Smarandescu and Brian Wansink, from Cornell University, have discovered that drinkers unintentionally poured larger servings when their glasses were wider, when the pourers held them in their hands, and when the color of the glassware matched the color of the wine.

“When glasses were wider, participants poured 11.9 percent more wine. The students poured 12.2 percent more wine when they were holding their glasses, compared with pouring into glasses placed on a table. When there was low contrast between the glass and the wine (i.e., white wine in a clear glass), participants poured 9.2 percent more wine than when there was high contrast (red wine in a clear glass).”

Why? Perhaps because when the glass is wider the level of liquid in the glass is lower than if it were in a narrow glass even though the quantity is the same. This could lead people to think there’s less in their glass than there actually is. Also, when you hold the glass in your hand you don’t see the bottom, so you may think there’s less in there than there actually is.

Can smartphone photos ruin the taste of your food?

In this column I often recommend taking photos of all the food and drink you consume. According to researchers at Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Management, looking at too many food photos can make eating less enjoyable.

The researchers are describing this as “bad” news, but it seems like good news for dieters to me. “Turns out your friends’ obsession with taking pictures of everything they eat and posting them on Instagram or Pinterest may be ruining your appetite by making you feel like you’ve already experienced eating that food. … In a way, you’re becoming tired of that taste without even eating the food. … It’s sensory boredom — you’ve kind of moved on. You don’t want that taste experience anymore.”

Start taking photos of all the unhealthy foods you eat (not the healthy ones). Based on this research, you’re doing yourself a good service. In fact, the researchers add, “If you have a weakness for a certain unhealthy food, say, chocolate, and want to prevent yourself from enjoying it, you may want to look at more pictures of that food.”

Exercise can actually benefit those with asthma

A review appearing in the prestigious journal The Cochrane Library found that “appropriate exercise programs can provide valuable benefits to people with asthma, helping to reduce the severity of attacks or prevent them entirely.” The review also showed that, “contrary to fears that patients and parents of asthmatic children sometimes have, exercise does not generally worsen the condition.”

The authors stated that this is true despite the fact that exercise, along with pollen and other airborne allergens, is a common trigger for asthma attacks.

If you do have asthma, make sure to talk to your physician before starting any exercise program. According to the article, 350 million people worldwide have asthma, and it accounts for one in every 250 deaths.

Being active can boost learning and memory in 9- to 10-year-olds

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that aerobic activity can make a difference in learning and memory — it makes sense. The researchers asked 48 children ages 9 to 10 to memorize names and locations on a fictitious map, and then tested their ability to remember what they’d studied. “Half the children were in the top 30 percent of their age group on a test measuring aerobic fitness, while the other half scored in the lowest 30 percent. When asked to recollect the information studied, children who were fitter performed better than those who were not as fit.”

Overweight dogs live shorter lives

Oh gosh, now you have to watch your dog’s weight, too. Researchers at the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition found that overweight dogs suffer a reduction in life expectancy of up to 10 months compared with ideal-weight dogs.

Charles Stuart Platkin is a nutrition and public health advocate and founder of DietDetective.com.