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The lower the calories, the higher the salaries? Which menus are making us fat?

Low-calorie restaurant menus: Are they making us fat? There's another old adage, "The lower the calories, the higher the salaries." Which menus are making us fat: The low-calorie menus or the obviously high-calorie photos of how food would ideally look but doesn't in real life? The calories listed on menus may not be telling the whole story.

The lower the calories, the higher the salaries? Which menus are making us fat?
Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Depending on our food cravings, the number of items served, and even the time of day, ordering a meal at a restaurant often requires a "narrowing down" decision making process, according to a new study, "How and When Grouping Low-Calorie Options Reduces the Benefits of Providing Dish-Specific Calorie Information," published online since March 12, 2014 in the Journal of Consumer Research. The print version will appear August 2014. Authors are Jeffrey R. Parker and Donald R. Lehmann.

Restaurants that now provide "low-calorie" labels on their menus can inadvertently cause people to eliminate healthy foods right off the bat

"Because most restaurant menus are quite complex—offering numerous dishes composed of multiple ingredients—diners try to simplify their decision. People have come to expect low-calorie food to taste bad or not fill them up," write authors Jeffrey R. Parker (Georgia State University) and Donald R. Lehmann (Columbia University), according to the April 15, 2014 news release, Low-calorie restaurant menus: Are they making us fat? "We propose that by calorie organizing a menu, restaurants make it easier for people to use the general 'low-calorie' label to dismiss all low-calorie options early in the decision process."

Study results showed that the participants who were given the traditional menus without any calorie information and the menus with the low-calorie food grouped together ordered food with similar amounts of calories. Interestingly, the participants who ordered from the calorie-labeled (but not grouped) menus ordered meals with fewer calories overall.

In four online studies, the authors asked participants to order food from menus similar to what they might encounter at well-known chain restaurants

Some participants were shown traditional menus that listed available dishes in food-type categories (with no calorie information on the menu). Another set of participants was given the same menus, but with calorie information provided by each dish. A third group was given the calorie-labeled menus with the low-calorie dishes grouped together and given a low-calorie section label.

"When a menu is calorie posted but not calorie organized, it is less likely that the caloric-content of the dishes will be used as an initial filter for eliminating large portions of the menu," the authors conclude. "For the consumer, this means you are more likely to consider ordering a low-calorie dish and also more likely to eat it too." You also may wish to check out the University of Chicago Press Journals.

Are older adults doing the right exercises and eating the most nutrient-dense foods to prevent their muscles from weakening due to age?

Or is the weakening due to loss of strength due to loss of muscle mass? Some suggest weight-bearing exercise or weight training from carrying the full grocery bags to exercising with weights, walking, or certain types of diets. So far, there's no agreement on how to measure muscle wasting.

Sarcopenia — the age-related loss of muscle mass and strength — may put up to 50 percent of seniors at greater risk for disability, yet there is no consensus within the medical community for how this condition should be measured. However, a new collection of articles appearing in The Journals of Gerontology, Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences (volume 69, number 5) lays out an empirically derived set of criteria for diagnosing sarcopenia.

You can check out the study's abstract, "Sarcopenia: An Independent Predictor of Mortality in Community-Dwelling Older Korean Men," published online April 10, 2014 in the The Journals of Gerontology, Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences. These recommendations are a result of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health Biomarkers Consortium Sarcopenia Project, which includes scientists and grantees from the National Institutes of Health, along with other partners in government, academia, and the private sector.

“Low muscle mass and weakness are common and potentially disabling in older adults, but in order to become recognized as a clinical condition, criteria for diagnosis should be based on clinically relevant thresholds and independently validated,” state the authors in the lead article of the series, according to the April 15, 2014 news release, "Scholars propose new standards for gauging muscle decline in older adults."
Their findings suggest that evidence-based cutpoints of grip strength (the force applied by the hand to grip an object) and lean mass could be used in identifying sacropenia.

To arrive at the recommended criteria, the scientists working within the Sarcopenia Project pooled data from nine large studies of older people living in the community and analyzed it for grip strength, gait speed, body mass index (BMI), and appendicular lean mass (ALM), which is a measurement of muscle mass in the arms and legs. But did the study suggest what type of food and movements or lifestyle can slow down rapid muscle wasting as the years fly by?

The total sample included more than 26,000 participants. The average age of the men was about 75.2 years, and the average age of the women was 78.6 years. Women comprised 57 percent of the sample

Based on their analyses, the investigators recommend that weakness be defined as grip strength less than 57 pounds (26 kilograms) for men and 35 pounds (16 kilograms) or less in women, and low muscle mass defined as an ALM-to-BMI ratio of less than 0.789 for men and 0.512 for women. Both of these criteria were associated with increased risk of developing mobility impairment over three-years of follow-up.

The researchers also noted that the datasets included primarily healthy older people who lived within the community. The scientists explained that additional research is needed in more vulnerable older populations where disability rates are higher.

Adopting the term "skeletal muscle function deficit" to describe sarcopenia and other age-related muscle dysfunction

In the final article in the series, the authors propose adopting the term “skeletal muscle function deficit” as a new terminology to embrace the evolving conceptualization of sarcopenia and other age-related muscle dysfunction; they argue it has the potential to provide a framework for developing diagnostic categories that are useful for both clinical practice and research.

The Journals of Gerontology, Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences is a peer-reviewed publication of The Gerontological Society of America (GSA), the nation's oldest and largest interdisciplinary organization devoted to research, education, and practice in the field of aging. The principal mission of the Society — and its 5,500+ members — is to advance the study of aging and disseminate information among scientists, decision makers, and the general public. GSA’s structure also includes a policy institute, the National Academy on an Aging Society, and an educational branch, the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education.

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