You’ve probably noticed two words popping up on more menus recently: gluten and free. In fact, celiac-friendly food is a big money-maker; gluten-free takeout orders have spiked by almost 60 percent since April 2012, according to a recent analysis of orders placed on GrubHub, a food ordering site.
The year-over-year analysis looked at orders placed at more than 20,000 restaurants in 500-plus cities across the U.S. The spike doesn’t exactly come as a surprise, considering that about one in three people say they’re cutting back on gluten or completely eliminating it from their diet, according to a survey that came out earlier this year. In addition to the huge increase overall, analysts also found that women are close to 50 percent more likely to make their takeout orders gluten-free than men are.
Of course, most of the people trying to avoid gluten aren’t doing it because they actually have an adverse reaction when they eat it (surely you’ve met someone who’s trying to lose weight on a gluten-free diet). But for the estimated 2.5 million Americans with celiac disease and the other 20 million with gluten sensitivities, making sure that your takeout hasn’t even come into contact with the protein is key to keeping your digestive system happy and healthy. Tricia Thompson, MS, RD, author of The Gluten-Free Nutrition Guide, offers these tips for ensuring that when you ask for a gluten-free dish, it actually gets to you that way:
Don’t assume a restaurant is safe just because it has a gluten-free menu
It’s better to err on the side of caution, says Thompson: Ask about the kitchen’s protocols for preventing cross-contamination. Restaurants should be using separate cooking tools to minimize the chances of your food touching anything that contains gluten.
Be extra careful with certain items
Foods that share a fryer with anything breaded can be particularly troublesome; you should always ask about the prep methods for French fries, tortilla chips, corn tortillas, and taco shells—not that that’s a comprehensive list, says Thompson. Soups, broths, and sauces can also be common gluten-hiding culprits since many places thicken them with flour.
Always read condiment labels
While you may know that certain items like malt vinegar are always off-limits, other sauces like soy sauce and salad dressing can also contain wheat—so it pays to be extra vigilant with these. Ketchup, mayonnaise, and plain yellow mustard are usually safe, but it’s always a good idea to read the full ingredient list before you use them. The danger words you’re looking out for: wheat, barley, malt, rye, oats, brewer’s yeast, and yeast extract.
If you’re not ordering from a gluten-free menu, plain is the key word
Your best bets here are items like plain grilled chicken or fish, making sure clean food prep tools are used and asking the cook to skip any sort of crumb topping. For a side, go with something like steamed vegetables or a baked potato. “This sounds boring I know,” says Thompson. “But better boring than sorry.”
Diet sips and snacks may not be as healthy as you think, according to new research published in the journal Diabetes Care. Sucralose, one of the most popular artificial sweeteners on the market, may cause a spike in insulin secretion, finds a team of researchers at Washington School of Medicine in St. Louis.
Since artificial sweeteners are often marketed as weight-loss aids, researchers chose to study the effects of sucralose on 17 obese, diabetes-free adults who rarely consumed sugar substitutes. In one session of the small clinical trial, participants were instructed to drink either water or a dose of liquid sucralose (about the amount in a 12-ounce can of diet soda) before taking a 75-gram serving of glucose (as if they were consuming the drink with food). As a control, the team repeated the experiment a week later with the same group, but doled out water to the participants who’d had sucralose in the initial test and vice versa.
When insulin levels were measured 90 minutes later, the participants who had consumed the sucralose had insulin concentrations 20 percent higher than those who had sipped water. Researchers also noted that the blood sugar of people who’d had the sucralose-spiked drinks peaked at a higher level than it did in those who didn’t have the sweetener.
Although a surge of insulin is a healthy response to a sugar rush, repeatedly flooding your body with sugar could lead to insulin insensitivity. Normally, the pancreas will bump insulin production to compensate for cells’ blunted response to insulin’s regulation of glucose, fatty acids, and amino acids, but if left unchecked, the concentration of sugar and fatty acids in the blood will build up and could lead to type 2 diabetes.
Since the clinical trial only tested the effects of sucralose in a small group of adults during two sessions, researchers say additional studies need to be carried out to figure out whether or not artificial sweeteners actually pose a health risk—so they caution against jumping to conclusions. “To say that sucralose causes diabetes is stretching our study results too much,” says lead study author Yanina Pepino, PhD, research assistant professor of medicine at Washington School of Medicine in St. Louis. “It’s not exactly what we measured.”
Still, it’s clear that sucking down zero-calorie fizzy drinks with a meal affects your body in ways the ultimate diet drink—water—does not, she says. Although it’s not yet clear how the human body detects artificial sweeteners, Pepino says previous studies in animals suggest taste receptors in the gastrointestinal tract and pancreas prompt the body to react as it would to sugar.
So what’s a girl to do? “As a dietitian, my two cents would be that everything should be taken in moderation,” says Gina Crome, RD, founder of Lifestyle Management Solutions. “That includes artificial sweeteners.” Crome recommends keeping soda consumption to two or fewer servings per day, regardless of the sugar content.
For a worry-free beverage, jazz up a glass of seltzer or tap water with lemon or lime wedges, berries, crushed herbs, or sliced ginger.
That hotel you have booked for your upcoming getaway? You might want to double-check whether there are any smoking rooms in the place—even if you requested a nonsmoking room: You can get third-hand smoke exposure from staying in a nonsmoking room if the hotel has other rooms where lighting up is allowed, according to new research published in Tobacco Control.
For the study, participants checked into a sample of rooms in 40 California hotels: 10 that had complete smoking bans, and 30 in which smoking was only banned in certain rooms. Researchers then tested surfaces and air in the rooms for tobacco smoke pollutants. The participants also stayed overnight in the guest rooms and then had their urine and fingers tested for exposure to nicotine and the tobacco-specific carcinogen 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone.
The test results showed that the nonsmoking rooms of hotels with partial bans had 40 percent higher air nicotine levels than the rooms in hotels with complete bans. While that’s much, much lower than the 2,100 percent higher levels that researchers found in designated smoking rooms, it’s still concerning, says study author Georg E. Matt, PhD, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University—especially since nonsmokers who stayed in the hotels with partial bans also had higher levels of contaminants from tobacco in their finger swipe and urine samples.
“Lo and behold, designation policy doesn’t really work,” he says. “We learned that tobacco smoke spreads throughout an entire hotel.”
While this study didn’t examine the health consequences of spending the night in a hotel with a partial smoking ban, previous research suggests that continued exposure to third-hand smoke can cause DNA damage that might lead to certain types of cancer.
That said, you don’t have to freak out if you’ve stayed at a hotel that allows smoking in certain rooms—or if it’s too late to change your upcoming reservations without losing your money.
“If you have a healthy young adult without any respiratory or heart conditions who stays in a hotel room one night in a designated nonsmoking room, I would not expect any great health outcomes,” says Matt. “But if you have, for instance, a hotel worker who every day for six to eight hours spends time in designated nonsmoking rooms, that’s a different story.”
People with asthma or other respiratory problems may want to be particularly diligent about seeking out 100 percent smoke-free hotels, says Matt. Even if that’s not you, asking a hotel if it allows smoking in any of its rooms—and choosing not to stay at ones that do—may help encourage change in the industry.
“It’s key that we turn these hotels into 100 percent smoke-free environments to protect hotel workers, as well as to protect nonsmoking guests,” says Matt.
You pop vitamin C tablets and chug orange juice when you feel a cold coming on—so what’s the big deal if your doctor prescribes antibiotics to stop a sniffle, cough, or sneeze from getting worse? Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. In fact, most of the preventative antibiotics prescribed for colds or viruses aren’t necessary—and therefore aren’t beneficial to people who take them, according to an observational study recently published in the journal Annals of Family Medicine.
In the study, researchers reviewed the medical records of 814,283 patients who suffered from a cold, laryngitis, bronchitis, or another virus (the medical term to describe these: acute nonspecific respiratory infections, aka ARIs). Even though antibiotics are designed to treat bacterial infections and have no effect on ARIs, 65 percent of the patients in the study were prescribed antibiotics to protect the patient in the event of a misdiagnosis and/or to prevent the virus from turning into something more serious, like pneumonia.
Hardly any of the pill-poppers suffered side effects from the antibiotics, and they were slightly less likely to develop pneumonia. However, only one case of pneumonia was prevented for every 12,255 patients who took antibiotics. That’s a whole lot of unnecessary prescriptions that experts say could have scary long-term consequences.
“The more antibiotics people take, the faster the bacteria in and around us develop resistance,” says study co-author Sharon Meropol, MD, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. Translation: When you get sick in the future, there may not be any antibiotics available that work.
That doesn’t mean you should swear off antibiotics altogether; the meds can reduce the time it takes to recover from a serious bacterial infection, says Robert Klein, MD, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at St. Luke’s and Roosevelt Hospitals.
If your doctor recommends antibiotics, it’s generally a good idea to ask if why—and if they’re really necessary, says Klein. If they are, make sure to follow your doctor’s instructions for taking the antibiotics to the letter to maximize effectiveness. Your health—both current and future—could depend on it.
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