Naturally Healthy 4 Life's Blog

A blog about health, nutrition, fitness and wellness

Health is a Choice

“Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.”  ~Mark Twain

As we were all groaning upon completing our 30th push up in my yoga practice yesterday, the teacher made the comment that it does take work to take care of our bodies – health and fitness do not come in a pill.  It touched a nerve.

As those of you who know me or have followed my blog may know, my drive for health and wellness started in large part from my parents, who did not take good care of their health – particularly, my mother.  My mother passed away far too young (at 69), due to health problems that were very preventable (type 2 diabetes, heart disease).

After having eight children and entering middle age, my mother struggled desperately with her weight.  She loved food and she hated exercise, so spent much of the rest of her life looking for that “magic pill.”  Sometimes it was literally a pill and other times it was the latest fad diet.  There was even a rubber sweatsuit of some kind that was supposed to sweat off the weight – it just made her miserable (and she looked pretty silly, too!).  She had some success here and there.  A particularly successful diet resulted from her drinking a shake for every meal.  The problem is that most people do not want to forgo real food and drink only shakes for the rest of their lives.  As is the case with most diet and exercise programs, at some point, you attain your desired goal weight or level of fitness and go off the program.  Most people go back to the same lifestyle they had before the program and watch the weight and poor health return (as it was with my mother – time and time again).

Herein lays the problem.  To maintain that weight or fitness level, and to improve health, wellness and longevity, you have to make permanent changes.

It is so true that health, wellness and fitness are a lifestyle that I choose every day.  I do not diet and I do not exercise excessively.  My weight fluctuates very little – maybe 3-4 pounds at the most.  This is not because I have good genes (obviously not the case) or because I am tall (believe it or not, I often get the comment that it is so much easier for me to stay thin because I am tall!?!).

I choose to eat nutritious, whole foods – avoiding processed foods and red meat.  I choose to practice yoga and to work out moderately and regularly.  I choose this lifestyle because it truly enhances my life – I feel better, I sleep better, I cope with stress better, I look better.  It allows me to thoroughly enjoy activities that I adore – biking and hiking, in particular – and to keep up with my very athletic husband.  I am rarely sick.

Yes, I could get run over by a bus tomorrow, but in case I don’t, I plan to do all I can to live and enjoy a very long, healthy life.   Want to join me?

Angela, Wellness Warrior 🙂

References:

  1. Life, baby!

November 4, 2012 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Nutrition | , , , , | 3 Comments

Turning the beat around…keeping your heart healthy!

Happy Heart Health Month! 

Poor heart health can lead to stroke, artherosclerosis, heart attack and heart failure.  There are, of course, the obvious measures that we can take to keep our hearts healthy. 

Most importantly, if you smoke, STOP NOW.  Cigarettes are products designed to addict and then kill you, and cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of disease and death in the U.S., accounting for more than 440,000 of the more than 2.4 million annual deaths (U.S. Surgeon General).  Smoking is one of the worst things you can do to your body, especially to your heart.  Additionally, even if you are not a smoker, according to the American Heart Association (“AHA”), about 22,700 to 69,600 premature deaths from heart and blood vessel disease are caused by other people’s smoke (a/k/a “second-hand smoke”) each year.

Exercise, particularly cardiovascular exercise, is also extremely important for your heart.  The AHA recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week (or a combo of each).  Shoot for 30 minutes every day, but if 30 minutes at once is difficult, start with 10-15 minutes in two or three segments a day, which is still beneficial. 

Nutrition, weight management and stress management are also very important in maintaining heart health.

Blood pressure:  What exactly do those two numbers mean?

Blood pressure is a measurement of the force applied to the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps blood through the body.  The pressure is determined by the force and amount of blood pumped, and the size and flexibility of the arteries.  It continually changes, depending on activity, temperature, diet, emotional state, posture, physical state and medications used.  It is measured while you are seated (or lying down), with your arm at rest; the health care provider slips a cuff over your bicep and measures your pulse at your elbow with a stethoscope.  They inflate the cuff until the dial reads about 210 mmHg (when they measure the systolic pressure), then they open the valve slightly, allowing the pressure to gradually fall (measuring the diastolic pressure).

The top number is the “systolic” blood pressure reading, representing the maximum pressure exerted when the heart contracts.   The bottom number is the “diastolic” blood pressure, representing the pressure in the arteries when the heart is resting.

Normal, healthy blood pressure should be 120/80 or less.  For instance, mine normally runs on the low side; my last blood pressure reading was 107/60.  However, when I broke my back, it was 150/90 (I was a wee bit stressed at the time).

Consistently high blood pressure damages your heart, leading to coronary artery disease, enlarged heart and heart failure, but can also cause problems for the rest of your body (brain, kidneys, eyes, bones).

Cholesterol and heart health

Cholesterol is the high-molecular-weight alcohol manufactured in the liver and in most human cells.  Blood vessel disease is caused by lesions or cracks in the artery wall.  LDL cholesterol (considered the “bad” cholesterol) is actually responsible for repairing the cracks.  Arterial plaque reduces blood flow and in some cases, blocks blood flow.  When our body starts over-compensating the repair process, we have a buildup of plaque. 

Cholesterol has several roles:

  • It provides our cells necessary stiffness and stability in the cell membrane.  Saturated fats also contributed to this process.  Note, however, when one’s diet contains excessive polyunsaturated fatty acids, these replace saturated fatty acids in the cell membrane; cells then become flabby.
  • Bile salts are made from cholesterol.  Bile is vital for digestion and assimilation of fats in the diet.
  • Cholesterol acts as an antioxidant, protecting us against free radical damage (which leads to heart disease and cancer).  This may be why cholesterol levels go up with age. 

Without cholesterol, the body cannot properly renew and/or replace its worn or damaged cells, and without new cells, the body ages and dies.  Most of the cholesterol in our body is manufactured by our liver – only about 20% of cholesterol relates to what we eat.

Who is at the highest risk of heart disease?

Perhaps surprisingly, women are more at risk than men.  According to the American Heart Association (“AHA”), cardiovascular disease claimed the lives of nearly 500,000 American women in 2004.  To raise awareness of heart disease as the number one killer of women, the AHA created Go Red for Women, a social initiative to empower women to take charge of their heart health.

The best assessment of risk comes from triglycerides and your HDL (“good”) cholesterol.  Triglycerides are the major form of fat stored by the body, consisting of three molecules of fatty acid combined with a molecule of the alcohol glycerol.  They are produced by the body and from the foods we eat.  Many of the triglyceride-containing lipoproteins that transport fat in the bloodstream also transport cholesterol.  The lower the triglycerides to HDL ratio, the lower our risk for heart disease.  Your health care provider can test both of these levels.

By eating a diet lower in starch and sugar, higher in good-quality fats, you can reduce elevated cholesterol, lower triglycerides, alter the type of “bad” LDL produced and increase the “good” HDL levels – all of which will reduce your risk of heart disease.

Foods for your heart

Omega-3 fatty acids are the top winner by far as the best supplement for your heart health.  Oily fish (like salmon, trout, herring), walnuts, flax seeds and pumpkin seeds are all high in omega-3 fatty acids.  Omega-3 fatty acids decrease triglyceride levels and increase HDL (the good cholesterol).  They reduce plaque build-up in arteries, which improves blood flow to the heart.  I keep a supply of pumpkin seeds on my desk for snacking throughout the day (but be very careful about what type of pumpkin seeds you buy – some are processed with hydrogenated oils).  You can buy flax seed, grind it and put it in cereal, yogurt, and salads – it has a nutty flavor to it.  You can also get omega-3’s through supplements (I take 2-6 per day, depending on whether I am getting enough in my daily diet).

Soluble fiber binds to cholesterol and prevents absorption.  Good sources of soluble fiber include oatmeal, oat bran, nuts, seeds, beans, peas, and barley.

Red wine may improve HDL (“good”) cholesterol with its catechins and reservatrol (flavanoids).  Nice!

Soy foods contain high levels of polyunsaturated fats, fiber, vitamins and minerals, and have been shown to lower triglycerides.

Spinach contains powerful phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals (magnesium, folate and iron, in particular) that help protect against heart disease.  (For more on spinach and magnesium, read my 4/26/10 blog, “I’m strong to the finich, ’cause I eats me spinach!”)

Perhaps for Valentine’s Day this year, give yourself and your family the gift of checking in on the health of your heart.  You only have one and it is a real pain to replace.

Angela, Heart Healthy 🙂

References:

  1. Nutritional Weight & Wellness Nutrition Series – 2009
  2. Journal of Holistic Medicine, Cranton & Frankelton, Spring/Summer 1984
  3. American Heart Association (http://www.americanheart.org)
  4. U.S. National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health – MedlinePlus (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus)
  5. “Definition of Triglycerides,” MedicineNet.com
  6. “5 Heart-Healthy Foods,” WebMD (http://www.webmd.com)

February 6, 2011 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Nutrition, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cleaning out the Junk

“My body is a temple where junk food goes to worship.”  ~Unknown Author

Vacations are amazing and necessary, and I never regret taking them.  Unfortunately, vacations also take me away from my fitness routines and the healthy diet that I practice.  Having just returned home from a glorious vacation to the Pacific Northwest, it is time for detox!

When I slip away from my healthy lifestyle for more than a day or two, I feel sluggish, fatigued, bloated and crabby.  When on vacation, I eat too much food (much of which is processed), consume loads of white flour, and drink too much alcohol and not enough water (sounds like the standard American diet, eh?!).  Unfortunately, while enjoyable, eating out every day is not healthy – you have little to no control over the source of your food or how it is prepared.

“Detoxing” is a very trendy term right now and carries different meanings for different people.  One can detox from alcohol or drugs, OR one can detox their body when they have strayed from healthier habits that keep the body in sync.  Obviously, my focus will be on the latter.

Many believe that it is not only what we consume that is toxic, but also the chemicals in the polluted air that we breathe, and the chemicals that we apply topically (makeup, deodorant, lotions, shampoos, etc.).  Over time, these toxins build in our bodies and may cause or contribute to a variety of illnesses and diseases. 

Ayurvedic detoxification (panchakarma) is the basis for most “detoxing.”  Ayurvedia is considered the oldest medical science in the world.  It is a form of holistic healing practiced in India for more than 4,000 years.  The term is derived from Sanskrit:  “Ayus” meaning life and “vid” meaning knowledge (“knowledge of life”).  Ayurvedic detox is an internal cleansing to remove toxins from the body resulting from incomplete digestion.  The “cleansing” or “flushing” process for this detoxification can be lengthy (45 days) and can include therapeutic vomiting, laxatives, medicated enemas, fasting, and cleansing of the sinuses. 

Other methods of detox include:

  • Dietary changes (diets low in fat, high in fiber, and mostly vegetarian, with an emphasis on raw food, avoiding processed foods, alcohol and caffeine)
  • Fasting (one of the oldest detox methods – often used for severe conditions, as it is one of the quickest ways to promoted elimination of toxins)
  • Herbal supplements (such as milk thistle extract, which detoxifies the liver; herbal laxatives, like psyllium seeds; vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, amino acids and essential fatty acids)
  • Chelation therapy (chelates are substances that bind to heavy metals and speed their elimination)
  • Sweating therapies (saunas, exercise, therapeutic baths, steam rooms – thought to help eliminate toxins stored in the subcutaneous fat cells)
  • Body therapies (massage, acupressure, shiatsu, manual lymph drainage, polarity therapy – which improve circulatory and structural problems, reduce stress and promote the body’s healing responses)

However, I find that you do not need to make dramatic changes in your lifestyle or diet to detox on a simpler level.  In fact, sudden and very dramatic changes in diet (such as fasting or removing entire groups of foods from your diet) can result in nutritional deficiencies and other health problems.  My personal methods incorporate a little of several of the methods noted above, without any ill effect. 

When I need to detox, I practice the following:

  • I do NOT go out to eat!  This way, I know where the food comes from and I can control how it is prepared.
  • I focus on primarily vegetarian foods of high quality and freshness – whole, organic fruits, vegetables and grains (what I like to call “clean eating”).
  • I eat lean, organic protein (salmon, chicken, turkey).
  • I avoid all processed foods, sugar and all white flour.
  • I double my water consumption (see my 2/26/10 blog “Got Water?” for more on the fabulous benefits of drinking H20).
  • I increase my cardio (I enjoy jogging and working up a good sweat – the endorphins give me a natural “high” and it helps clear my mind).
  • I practice more yoga (you can never have too much yoga, right?!).

I notice that the time it takes for me to detoxify my body is about the same amount of time that I spent toxifying it!  So…one-week post-vacation, I feel back to my old self.

Happy cleansing!

Angela, Delightfully Detoxed 🙂

References:

  1. “10 Ways to Detoxify Your Body,” Deborahann Smith, Gaiam Life
  2. “Ayurvedic medicine” and “Detoxification” (http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com)
  3. “The Pollution Within,” David Ewing Duncan, National Geographic (http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2006/10/toxic-people/duncan-text)

September 12, 2010 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Nutrition | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Feeling blue? Then this one’s for you!

‎”We would never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world.”  ~Helen Keller

Antidepressants are the most widely prescribed drugs in most of the world.  They are prescribed by psychiatrists and psychologists to alleviate mood disorders (depression, dysthymia, anxiety, etc.).  The most commonly prescribed antidepressants are SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), which increase the amount of serotonin. 

Serotonin is a hormone, also known as 5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT, which acts as a chemical messenger to transmit nerve signals between nerve cells and that causes blood vessels to narrow.  In the brain, serotonin acts as a neurotransmitter, involved in the control of pain perception, the sleep-wake cycle, and mood.

While the symptoms of depression might be alleviated by serotonin-altering-drugs like antidepressants, it obviously does not mean that the individual’s situation has been improved – only their perception of the environment has changed.  Unfortunately, many people taking antidepressants are doing so without the accompanying therapy.  So either they never discontinue using it or when they do, they go right back to the same symptoms that led them to seek help.

So why do we take antidepressants?

We take antidepressants because life can be very sad and depressing and we want to feel better – and we can feel better faster simply by taking a pill!  It does not get any easier than that.  However, if we never felt sad or depressed, would we truly appreciate the joys that life offers?  Sometimes life IS sad and depressing – but perhaps this is how we best learn and grow?

In cases of severe disorders, such as chronic, severe depression, wherein it is interfering with daily life, antidepressants may provide the individual with enough alleviation from the symptoms that they can effectively deal with and treat the disorder.

But for mild to moderate depression, are antidepressants really necessary?  Most people with depression do not fall into the category of “severe” depression.  According to a 2010 study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania, in which researchers studied the effect of randomized placebo-controlled trials of an antidepressant on 718 adults with mild to very severe depression, the researchers concluded, “Whereas antidepressant medications can have a substantial effect with more severe depressions, there is little evidence to suggest that they produce specific pharmacalogical benefit for the majority of patients with less severe acute depressions.”  Of course, the study has its critics.

What reduces the serotonin in our bodies?

The following are substances, conditions and activities (or lack thereof) that actually suppress the serotonin in our bodies:

  • Alcohol
  • Artificial sweeteners (aspartame)
  • Caffeine
  • Cigarette Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Dietary deficiencies of nutrient co-factors
  • Ecstasy, Diet Pills and certain medications
  • Genetic Predisposition
  • Hormone Imbalances (thyroid, adrenal, estrogen)
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Lack of Dietary Protein
  • Lack of exercise
  • Lack of sunlight
  • Problems converting tryptophan to Serotonin
  • Problems with Digestion
  • Stress and Anger

How do we increase serotonin?

If you are feeling blue or suffering from situational depression (for instance, you just suffered a breakup, lost your job or experienced the loss of a loved one – life situations that will make anyone sad and depressed for some period of time) and are looking for some natural ways to increase your serotonin, you do have options.

Sleep.  Sleep is necessary for the body to rejuvenate.  Lack of sleep disrupts hormone production and can keep your brain from producing enough serotonin.  (See my 3/8/10 blog post, “Now I lay me down to sleep…” for more information on the importance of sleep.)

Exercise.  It is one of the easiest ways to naturally boost neurotransmitters.  Even 30-60 minutes of moderate activity 3-5 days per week will work.

Diet.  Eat a balanced diet of whole, natural foods – including fresh fruits and vegetables (as found in nature, so no juice) and whole grains (choose 100% whole grain products, rather than those “made with whole grain”).  Each meal, including breakfast, should consist of lean protein (2-4 oz. of meat, eggs or cheese), a good fat (1-2 tbsp. olive oil, butter, coconut oil, nuts, seeds – this does not include margarine or other processed fats) and carbohydrates (1/2 cup of grains OR 1-3 cups of vegetables OR 1/2 cup fruit).  Additionally, eating food rich in tryptophan (a natural source of serotonin) can boost your serotonin.  It’s found in:

  • Turkey
  • Tuna
  • Salmon
  • Cheese
  • Bananas
  • Walnuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds

Healthy fat.  Polyunsaturated (i.e. Omega 3s) and monounsaturated fats are the “good” fats.  Avoid saturated fats like trans-fats at all costs.  (For more about healthy fats, see my 3/22/10 blog post, “Could fat actually be good for us?”)

Vitamin B Complex.  All of the B vitamins are vital for energy and the production of serotonin.  They are found naturally in whole grains, green vegetables and dairy, but supplements are also available.

Calcium & Magnesium.  These minerals are both important to serotonin production.  They can be found in dairy and nuts, and magnesium is very highly concentrated in spinach, but both are also available in supplement form.  (See my 4/26/10 blog post, “I’m strong to the finich, ’cause I eats me spinach!” for more information on the many benefits of magnesium.)

Sunshine.  Natural sunlight stimulates the production of serotonin and suppresses melatonin.  Sunlight boosts mood and energy.  (See my 4/12/10 blog post, “Sunlight is life,” for information on sunshine and vitamin D.)

So if you are feeling blue today, take a brisk walk in the sunshine, have a turkey sandwich, and take a nap!  Have you ever done any of these things without feeling better for it?

Angela, Natural Serotonin Junkie  🙂

References/Sources:

  1. “Eight Natural Ways to Boost Serotonin and Mood,” Elizabeth Walling, May 27, 2009 (www.naturalnews.com)
  2. “Antidepressants:  How Well Do They Work?”  Psychiatric Times, March 3, 2010 (www.psychiatrictimes.com)
  3. “What’s a good natural source of serotonin to cure depression?”  Merri Ellen Giesbrecht (www.cure-your-depression.com)
  4. “Serotonin,” Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org)

July 18, 2010 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Nutrition, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Dirty Dozen Update

 

Today, I am giving you a quick update on my blog “Food for Thought – Choosing Organic,” which addresses the importance of farming, shopping and consuming organic food.  In that blog, I listed the foods that are considered to be the most vulnerable to pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics, etc.  I received a huge response from readers, grateful for the information and the easy to follow list.

Using data from the USDA and the FDA, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently updated its list of the fruits and vegetables that are susceptible to contamination to include blueberries and cherries.

The new “Dirty Dozen”:

  • Celery
  • Peaches
  • Strawberries
  • Apples
  • Blueberries
  • Nectarines
  • Bell Peppers
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Cherries
  • Potatoes
  • Grapes (imported)

Of the “cleaner” variety (lowest in pesticide residue):

  • Onions
  • Avacado
  • Sweet corn
  • Pineapple
  • Mangos
  • Sweet Peas
  • Asparagus
  • Kiwi
  • Cabbage
  • Eggplant
  • Cantaloupe
  • Watermelon
  • Grapefruit
  • Sweet Potato
  • Honeydew Melon

However, do not forget to wash all produce before cutting or eating it.  Even the skin or shell of a fruit or vegetable can contain harmful bacteria that when cutting through it, transfers the contaminant to its interior.  (I know someone who contracted salmonella from a canteloupe.)

If you would like to download the EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides (a pocket-sized pdf or as an iPhone App), go to http://www.foodnews.org/walletguide.php. 

Angela, Extra Clean Eater 🙂

References:

  1. Environmental Working Group (http://www.ewg.org)
  2. Eating Well Magazine (www.eatingwell.com)
  3. FoodNews.org (http://www.foodnews.org)

June 27, 2010 Posted by | Health, Nutrition | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How sweet it isn’t!

“Things sweet to taste prove in digestion sour.”  ~William Shakespeare

I don’t drink soda pop or “soft drinks” and that puts me in the minority in this country.  In fact, the average consumption of soft drinks in the United States is now over 600 12-ounce servings per person per year.  Since the 1970s, it has doubled for females and tripled for males, with the highest consumption by males between 12 and 29 years of age.  They average a half-gallon per day (160 gallons per year!).

There has been much ado in the last 20 years about the dangers of soft drinks – everything from the marketing of it to children to the obesity epidemic, with sugar and high fructose corn syrup at the top of the list of culprits.  As a result of the frenzy, soft drinks labeled “diet” and “light” have skyrocketed in popularity, the most popular being Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi, Diet Mountain Dew, Diet Sprite, etc., and most of which contain aspartame or a combination of aspartame and other artificial sweeteners.

Artificial sweeteners are regulated by the FDA as food additives and six intensely sweet sugar substitutes are approved for use in the United States:  saccharin, aspartame, sucralose, neotame, acesulfame potassium and stevia. 

Saccharin was the first artificial sweetener, originally synthesized in 1879 when it was discovered by accident.  It is 300-500 times sweeter than sugar. 

Aspartame is currently the most popular artificial non-saccaride sweetener used as a sugar substitute.  It is 200 times sweeter than sugar.  It was first synthesized in 1965 and approved by the FDA in 1974 (known under the brand names of Equal, NutraSweet, Spoonful, Canderel, AminoSweet).

The others – sucralose (“Splenda”), acesulfame potassium and stevia –  are usually used in combination with saccharin or aspartame.

To date, the FDA has not found enough scientific information that these sweeteners are unsafe.  Interestingly, many of the studies on the safety of these chemicals were conducted or funded by the manufacturers of the sweeteners. 

Additionally, artificial sweeteners cost the food industry only a fraction of the cost of natural sweeteners.  It is, therefore, not surprising that the industry heavily promotes its “diet” or “light” products, as they are reaping huge profits!

Makes you go “hmmm…,” doesn’t it?

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably IS

As you can tell from other posts to this blog, I am not a fan of sugar – it is extraordinarily bad for our bodies and causes multiple problems.  However, I do not believe that substituting it with an artificial chemical is a solution.  Let me just focus on the most popular:  Aspartame.

Aspartame is composed of three chemicals:  aspartic acid (40%), phenylalanine (50%) and methanol (10%). 

  1. Aspartic acid converts to aspartate, which readily crosses the blood brain barrier, resulting in free-radical formation and nerve cell damage.  In childhood, the blood brain barrier is not fully developed, does not completely protect all areas of the brain and can be damaged by chronic and acute conditions, leaving brain cells vulnerable.  This is frightening when you consider the fact that many parents think it’s better for their children to drink diet soda than regular soda (in an effort to avoid the sugar or corn syrup).
  2. Phenylalanine is an amino acid normally found in protein foods and in the brain.  When used prudently, it is a safe amino acid.  However, in people with genetic disorders, excess levels can lead to phenylketonuria (PKU), a genetic disorder that can cause schizophrenia and seizures.
  3. Methanol is wood alcohol, a deadly poison that can cause blindness and death.  It is released in the small intestine when the methyl group of aspartame reacts with the intestinal enzyme chymotrypsin.  Methanol breaks down into formaldehyde, a deadly neurotoxin and known carcinogen that interferes with DNA replication and can cause birth defects.  When aspartame is heated (improper storage or shipment), “free methanol” is created, speeding up the absorption of methanol and magnifying its effects.  Of note, in 1993, the FDA approved the use of aspartame in food items (like gelatin desserts) that required heating!

Additionally, aspartame metabolizes to diketopiperazine (DKP) once inside our body.  DKP is associated with increased incidence of uterine polyps, elevated cholesterol and stomach cancer (Dr. Jacqueline Verrett, FDA toxicologist, before the U.S. Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, November 3, 1987).

Aspartame has been linked to everything from headaches, migraines, weight gain and fatigue, to birth defects, brain cancer, diabetes, epilepsy and seizures.

While we may be able to consume aspartame in moderation without consequence, it is a CHEMICAL.  Our bodies were not built to process chemicals.  Who knows what the long term effects are?

Drink diet soda = lose weight?

Think again!  Our bodies get confused by artificial sweeteners.  The dissociation between sweet taste and calorie intake may put the regulatory system that controls hunger and body weight out of sync, thus sabotaging weight loss plans.  A study on rodents showed that those fed saccharin actually gained weight compared to rodents fed sucrose (sugar).

When you consume sugar substitutes, the taste buds tell the brain that food is coming in, but the body doesn’t get the energy it’s expecting, undermining the ability to judge how much food you consume, leading you to eat more.  Additional studies found that it may actually stimulate the appetite, prompting cravings for carbohydrates.

With the intense sweetness of artificial sweeteners, we get used to that much sweetness, making normal sweet flavors (i.e. fruit) seem bland, reducing our desire to eat them.  Some research has indicated that the taste of sweetness is addictive – the more you consume, the more you need to feel satisfied.

An addiction to diet soda is no different from any other addiction.  The only way to break out of it is to stop consuming it and go through the withdrawal.  Eventually, the cravings subside and you will wonder why you waited so long to say goodbye!

Angela, Anti-Aspartame 🙂

References:

  1. Nutritional Weight & Wellness, Inc., Nutrition Series 2009
  2. Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org)
  3. Everyday Wisdom (http://www.everyday-wisdom.com)
  4. “Three Reasons to Rethink that Diet Coke You’re About to Drink,” Fooducate Blog (http://www.fooducate.com)
  5. “Aspartame:  The Not-So-Sweet Facts about Aspartame,” The Healthier Life (http://www.thehealthierlife.co.uk)

June 20, 2010 Posted by | Health, Nutrition, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Food of the Gods

So what’s the big deal about coconut oil?  Likely, much more than you realize. 

Coconut oil boosts the metabolism, reduces bad cholesterol, augments the immune system, acts as a powerful antioxidant, and makes skin and hair soft and smooth.

How does it work?

Coconut oil is different from most other fats because it consists of medium chain fatty acids, which are sent straight to the liver and are immediately converted to energy, acting more like a carb than a fat.

Lauric acid, a saturated fatty acid found in human milk, cow’s milk and goat’s milk, is also found in coconut oil.  Coconut oil is about 50% lauric acid.  Lauric acid has been found to have antimicrobial, antioxidant, antifungal and antibacterial properties.

The body converts lauric acid into monolaurin, which helps in dealing with viruses and bacteria that cause disease.  It has been extensively used in Ayurveda, a system of traditional medicine native to the Indian subcontinent and practiced in other parts of the world as a form of alternative medicine.  Coconut oil also contains capric acid, which also forms into monoluarin and has antimicrobial properties.

Oodles of benefits

One of the most interesting facts about coconut oil is that it is GOOD for your heart.  Past claims that coconut oil increases cholesterol have now proven unfounded.  A common misconception is that because it contains a large quantity of saturated fat (92%, in fact), it will increase LDL (bad cholesterol) levels.  However, not all saturated fats are created equal.  Coconut oil actually reduces the incidence of injury in arteries and helps in preventing atherosclerosis.  It stimulates thyroid activity, increasing metabolic rate and normalizing cholesterol by converting it (specifically, LDL cholesteral) into anti-aging steroids, pregnenolone, progesterone and DHEA.  It actually LOWERS cholesterol.

Consuming coconut oil helps you lose weight.  It breaks down quickly in the body and is burned for fuel long before it can be stored as fat.  Replacing other fats with coconut oil means that the rate at which your body stores fat slows down, because more of your dietary fat is metabolized for energy.  But beyond that, coconut oil actually increases the rate at which you burn stored fat, even beyond the extra fat you burn simply because you exercise more and work harder. 

Coconut fat normalizes body lipids, protecting against alcohol damage in the liver and improves the immune system’s anti-inflammatory response.

Coconut oil contains natural antioxidants.  Whether ingested or applied topically, it is effective in preventing the free-radical damage that can lead to aged and wrinkled skin.  It absorbs easily into the skin, is good for the relief of dry, rough skin, and treats various skin problems, including psoriasis, dermatitis and eczema.

Coconut oil is used topically in the Indian subcontinent for hair care.  It’s an excellent conditioner and helps re-growth of damaged hair.

The dangers of hydrogenated oils

Hydrogenated coconut oil has a completely different chemical makeup than virgin coconut oil and none of the same benefits.  Hydrogenation is the process of heating an oil and passing hydrogen bubbles through it.  The fatty acids in the oil then acquire some of the hydrogen, which makes it more dense.  If you fully hydrogenate, you create a solid (a fat) out of the oil.  But if you stop part way, you a semi-solid partially hydrogenated oil that has a consistency like butter, only it’s a lot cheaper.  Because of that consistency, and because it is cheap, it is a big favorite as a butter-substitute among “food” producers.  It gives their products a richer flavor and texture, but doesn’t cost near as much as it would to add butter.

Hydrogenated oils contain high levels of trans fats.  Trans fats are deadly.  They interfere with the metabolic process of life by taking the place of a natural substance that performs a critical function.  In the long term, consumption of trans fats can produce a variety of diseases and in the short term, they make you fat.  If you buy packaged/processed food, you must read, read, READ the labels!  Even foods advertised as “healthy” and “organic” often contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils.

Just 3.5 tablespoons a day of non-hydrogenated, unrefined virgin coconut oil provides numerous benefits.  Use it as a substitute for butter or any oil for baking.  Two that I recommend are:  Spectrum brand “Naturally unrefined expeller pressed virgin organic coconut oil” (SEE http://www.spectrumorganics.com); and Nutiva brand “Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil” (http://www.nutiva.com).

One of my favorite ways to use coconut oil is to sauté dark leafy greens (like kale or spinach) with it and a little garlic.  The taste is decadent, the benefits supreme.  Trust me, you will love it!

Angela, Coconut NUT 🙂

References:

  1. Nutritional Weight & Wellness, Nutrition Series 2009
  2. Organic Facts (http://www.organicfacts.net)
  3. “Metabolic Poisons:  What’s Wrong with Partially Hydrogenated Oils?” and “Coconut Oil:  Miracle Medicine and Diet Pill,” Eric Armstrong (http://www.treelight.com)
  4. Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org)

June 6, 2010 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Nutrition | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Help, I forgot to eat!

“Food is an important part of a balanced diet.”  ~Fran Lebowitz

I am always stunned when I hear people say that they “forget” to eat.  Not only to I love to eat, but when I am forced to go more than three hours without nutrition, I not only feel hungry, I feel terrible.  Missing meals makes me crabby and fatigued, and unable to think clearly.  I never forget to eat.

As noted in my blog posts “Ellen & the Ugly Truth about Sugar” and “The Importance of Breaking the Fast,” food is fuel.  Blood sugar concentration or blood glucose level is the amount of glucose (sugar) present in the blood.  Glucose is the main energy source for our body, including our brain.  During digestion, the body breaks down carbohydrates into various sugar molecules, one of which is glucose.  It absorbs directly into our bloodstream after we eat and enters our cells with the help of insulin, a hormone secreted by our pancreas.   Hypoglycemia is the clinical syndrome that occurs when your blood sugar (glucose) is too low.

Skip a meal, lose some weight?

Not so much.  Despite the plethora of information providing to the contrary, there are still many of us out there that believe that the less we eat, whether that’s eating micro-portions or skipping meals, the smaller our waistline.  It is simply not true.  In fact, for someone trying to lose weight, skipping meals may actually sabotage their efforts.

It does seem logical in theory:  eat less, consume fewer calories, and you will lose weight.  However, when it comes to skipping meals, this theory is debunked if you understand how the fabulous machine that is the human body works.

When our body has not had sufficient nutrition for a period of time, it slips into what is commonly called “starvation mode.”  Starvation mode is a physiological process where the body slows down normal processes to conserve energy.  This occurs when our blood sugar drops and any time the body does not have glycogen in the liver.  The liver can hold about three hours of glycogen, so by hour four without food, the body is likely starting the starvation mode process.  

When the body experiences a deficit in calories, it must reach into its stored tissues to create its own glucose.  We are well programmed to adapt to an inadequate food supply.  When calories are consistently low, our metabolism slows down and begins to store calories as fat tissue.  It is far more effective to cut calories in small increments throughout the entire day than to skip a meal so that the body never has to enter “starvation mode”.

In starvation mode, some notable physical effects occur, such as weakness, drowsiness, dizziness, headaches and queasiness, as well as emotional and psychological effects like anxiety, irritability, anger and depression.

Another problem with skipping meals is that most people who do so usually increase how much they eat at other meals in the day by at least the same amount of calories.  These people, like others who come to a meal overly hungry, tend to eat rapidly, which makes it difficult for them to sense when they’ve had enough.  Those who skip meals may also snack more.  Although the snacks might be small in size, they can add up to a substantial number of calories and replace the calories missed at a meal.

Furthermore, even if you manage to keep a low daily total of calories for a few days by skipping meals, weight loss requires reduced calorie consumption over an extended period of time.  Meal-skipping that leads to considerable under-eating for a few days often results in more days of overeating.

Is there a better way? 

Yes – eat more frequently and more thoughtfully!

Frequent, balanced meals keep your blood sugar stable.  Each meal, including breakfast, should consist of lean protein (2-4 oz. of meat, eggs or cheese), a good fat (1-2 tbsp. olive oil, butter, coconut oil, nuts, seeds – this does not include margarine or other processed fats) and carbohydrates (1/2 cup of grains OR 1-3 cups of vegetables OR 1/2 cup fruit).

Frequent, balanced meals also prevent the over consumption of calories.  Since excess calories are always converted into body fat, a more efficient metabolism brought about by eating small frequent meals ensures the efficient burning of food calories, regular and constant distribution of glycogen and amino acids throughout the body preventing the storage of body fat.

Angela, Nosher & Nibbler 🙂

References:

  1. “Nutrition Wise” by Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN, American Institute for Cancer Research (www.aicr.org)
  2. Womens Health Zone (http://www.womenhealthzone.com)
  3. “Nutrition & Dieting – Starvation Mode,” Dr. Bret L. Emery (http://en.allexperts.com)
  4. “Starvation Diets and Low Carbohydrate, High Protein Diets” (http://www.vaxa.com)

May 31, 2010 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Nutrition | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Importance of Breaking the Fast

Why is breakfast touted as the most important meal of the day?  For some very good reasons!

The word “breakfast” actually comes from the term “breaking the fast.”  We obviously don’t eat when we are sleeping, so we are “fasting” during that time.  We break the fast when we eat the next morning.  For most of us, the fast lasts anywhere from eight to 12 hours.  It is the first chance that the body has to refuel its blood glucose levels. 

As I mentioned in my blog post “Ellen & the Ugly Truth about Sugar,” glucose is the main energy source for our body, including our brain.  During digestion, the body breaks down carbohydrates into various sugar molecules, one of which is glucose.  It absorbs directly into our bloodstream after we eat and enters our cells with the help of insulin, a hormone secreted by our pancreas. 

The bottom line is that food is fuel.  By eating breakfast every day, your body and brain are reaping enormous benefits. 

Eating breakfast:

  • Boosts your energy, providing you with more strength and endurance to engage in physical activity
  • Heightens your sense of well-being
  • Increases your attention span
  • Improves your memory and concentration

People who eat breakfast eat more nutrients, vitamins and minerals, eat less fat and cholesterol, and have lower cholesterol levels.  As many studies have shown, children who eat a healthy breakfast concentrate better, have better problem-solving skills, have better hand-eye coordination, and are more alert, creative and more physically active.

The effects of a skipped breakfast (to name just a few):

  • Short attention span
  • Lack of alertness
  • Longer reaction time
  • Low blood sugar
  • Decreased work productivity

Is skipping breakfast (or any meal) a good way to lose weight?

Absolutely not.  Breakfast eaters tend to weigh less than breakfast skippers.  Eating breakfast reduces hunger throughout the day.  People who eat a healthy breakfast are less likely to binge the remainder of the day and skipping meals actually slows the metabolism.

When the body experiences a deficit in calories, it must reach into its stored tissues to create its own glucose.  Due to our ancestry, we are well programmed to adapt to an inadequate food supply.  When calories are consistently low, our metabolism slows down and begins to store calories as fat tissue.  It is far more effective to cut calories in small increments throughout the entire day than to skip a meal so that the body never has to enter “starvation mode”.

Just not hungry or short on time?

Many people (my 14-year-old son, for instance), claim they are just not hungry in the morning.  If that’s the case, start small, preferably with a lean protein (protein blunts your hunger the most and is the most satisfying – eggs are some of the highest quality protein), then gradually build to a healthier, balanced breakfast. 

Others claim that they don’t have time for breakfast.  Making time for breakfast is making time for health.  If you are short of time in the morning, plan ahead!  You can make hard-boiled eggs, oatmeal, cut up vegetables and/or fruit, and store them in reusable containers to grab quickly in the morning.  On the weekend, my husband makes breakfast sandwiches (100% whole grain English muffins, scrambled egg, cheese and turkey sausage), stores them in containers and freezes them.  They make a powerful protein packed breakfast that takes just a few minutes to heat up.

What constitutes a “good” breakfast?

When deciding what to eat for breakfast (or any other meal of the day), strive for balance.  Each meal, including breakfast, should consist of lean protein (2-4 oz. of meat, eggs or cheese), a good fat (1-2 tbsp. olive oil, butter, coconut oil, nuts, seeds – this does not include margarine or other processed fats) and carbohydrates (1/2 cup of grains OR 1-3 cups of vegetables OR 1/2 cup fruit).

Be wary of cereal for breakfast.  While it’s convenient (especially for children), it is not the best breakfast choice.  Most cereals are heavily processed, have little to no protein or nutrients, and contain enormous amounts of sugar.  Always check the list of ingredients and the amount of sugar – it should never be more than 13 grams per serving.  (For more on the effects of sugar on one’s health, see my blog post “Ellen & the Ugly Truth about Sugar.”)

Another tip:  Always think WHOLE – whole fruits and vegetables (as found in nature, so no juice) and whole grains (choose 100% whole grain products, rather than those “made with whole grain”).

Hopefully, if you aren’t already there, you will learn to appreciate breakfast as much as I do!

Angela, Breakfast Lovin’ Babe 🙂

References:

  1. http://www.mayoclinic.com
  2. http://balancing-meals.suite101.com
  3. http://www.uwyo.edu
  4. http://www.webmd.com

April 5, 2010 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Nutrition | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Stress Monster

There is more to life than increasing its speed.  ~Mohandas K. Gandhi

We all experience stress on a daily basis – mostly on a small-scale.  It’s part of life.  The human body is designed to experience stress and react to it (physically, mentally and emotionally).  It can be positive in the fact that it keeps us alert and ready to avoid danger (the “fight or flight” response).  It is difficult for scientists to define, as the effects differ for each of us.  Something that is distressful for me may be very pleasurable for another (i.e. public speaking – enjoyable for some, terrifying for others).  It can result from external challenges (major life changes, work, financial problems) or be self-generated (pessimism, perfectionism, negative self-talk).

However, when stress becomes continuous or chronic, without relaxation between challenges, it leads to distress.  Mentally, it can cause difficulty in concentration, trouble learning new information, forgetfulness, difficulty making decisions, feeling overwhelmed, social withdrawal, panic attacks – just to name a few!  It can manifest itself physically, causing headaches, upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, difficulty sleeping, etc., etc….  The effects are different for everyone.  Consider the following:

  • Forty-three percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress.
  • 75-90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
  • Stress can play a part in problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety.
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) declared stress a hazard of the workplace. Stress costs American industry more than $300 billion annually.
  • The lifetime prevalence of an emotional disorder is more than 50%, often due to chronic, untreated stress reactions.

When we experience stress, our body releases a hormone called “Cortisol.”  It helps metabolize glucose, regulates blood pressure, assists with insulin release for blood sugar maintenance, and is involved in immune function and inflammatory response.  Small increases in cortisol can provide a quick burst of energy, heightened memory functions, a burst of increased immunity, lower sensitivity to pain, and assistance in maintaining homeostasis (the physiology of internal stability) in the body.

However, prolonged levels of cortisol in the bloodstream (chronic stress) can cause a multitude of physical problems, including (but not limited to!) the following:

  • Impaired cognitive performance
  • Suppressed thyroid function
  • Blood sugar imbalances such as hyperglycemia
  • Decreased bone density
  • Decrease in muscle tissue
  • Higher blood pressure
  • Lowered immunity and inflammatory responses in the body, slowed wound healing, and other health consequences
  • Increased abdominal fat, which is associated with a greater amount of health problems than fat deposited in other areas of the body. Some of the health problems associated with increased stomach fat are heart attacks, strokes, the development of metabolic syndrome, higher levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and lower levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL), which can lead to other health problems!
  • The effects of stress often look like symptoms of other illnesses (partially due to the fact that stress lowers immunity and makes us vulnerable to many things), sometimes people mistake symptoms of illness for stress and vice versa.

In my case, stress ran my immune system into the ground.

About a year ago, I had a lot going on in my life – good and bad.  I had a very stressful job, I was caring for a sick, elderly pet and I was planning my wedding.  My entire life up to that point had required that I push through whatever stress was taking place at any given moment – I had to in order to survive.  This was natural for me.  However, while I took care of my body – ate healthfully, exercised regularly – my mind was spinning out of control.  I was able to maintain a remarkably calm exterior.  Based on my appearance and composure, no one could tell (including me) that the suppression of these stresses was making me very sick.

I started having panic attacks, chest pains, and I was sleeping very little.  This led to a complete meltdown of my immune system.  Within a few months, I developed urticaria and giant hives on a daily basis.  My body was suddenly allergic to foods I used to eat several times a week, if not every day – peanuts (and other tree nuts), berries, shellfish, and sulfates.  The medical doctors that treated me were perplexed.  They refused to believe that stress alone could be the cause of my many ailments, ordering test after test, sending me to specialists – all of which resulted in a diagnosis of something like “unspecified immune system dysfunction,” with no idea of how to treat it.  (Unfortunately, I spent a lot of money for that diagnosis!)  They prescribed various medications – steroids (when my life was at risk from the urticaria) to antihistamines.  At one point, I was taking four different medications to control the physical symptoms that were causing me pain and disrupting my life.

My body was in such terrible shape that a lifestyle change was necessary.  After the wedding, I quit my stressful job and focused on getting healthy – emotionally, physically, mentally.  It took about a month after leaving my job for the symptoms to start to dissipate.  While I am now quite healthy, I still have a long way to go in my journey; I spent a lifetime telling myself to “suck it up and move on!”  I know now that the stress does not go away; if you don’t address it, it festers and grows.  This year has been both incredibly blessed and terribly difficult – and an incredible learning experience!

The following are some ways that you can relax your body and mind to keep cortisol levels at bay:

  • Journaling
  • Meditation
  • Exercise
  • Yoga
  • Breathing exercises
  • Listening to music
  • Acupuncture
  • Sex

Don’t let the Stress Monster get the best of you!

Angela, Chillin’ Chica 🙂

References:

  1. http://www.webmd.com
  2. http://www.stress.org
  3. http://stress.about.com

March 29, 2010 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Nutrition | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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