Monday, March 29, 2010

Exercise For Body, Mind, and Soul

There are plenty of good reasons to exercise. In addition to managing weight and stress, and preventing the risk of several diseases, researchers now find increasing evidence that physical activity keeps the mind sharp and the brain healthy.
The idea that fitness can change the brain's physiology didn't catch on until recently, when technological advances in MRI allowed scientists to examine the brain on a molecular level. Exercise has been found to increase the development of new brain cells, which are accompanied by the growth and increase in the quality of the neurons. New growth of cells also produces a growth of new vascular capillaries, which provides more oxygen-rich blood to the brain. Aerobic activity has also produced a number of growth factors like insulin-growth factor-1 and and brain-derived neurotrophic factor that may grow and repair the brain. Physical fitness actually shifts where the blood flows in the brain specifically preserving brain cells associated with cognitive function.
Even though the way in which exercise affects the brain is still a mystery, it has been proven that staying physically fit keeps the brain strong and healthy. It's never too late; fitness in middle age and beyond reduces the biological effects of aging and any further declines in cognitive function. In some cases, function has shown improvement. Swimming, walking, dancing, bicycling, and aerobic classes are examples of "moderate" exercise. Getting some mild to moderate exercise daily is the best thing you can do for yourself, because life is worth it.
~National Review of Neuroscience, 2008

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Moderate Exercise For Maximum Weight Loss

A study aimed to determine whether the exercise guidelines established by the U.S. Surgeon General were sufficient to promote weight loss. The eight week study revealed that the group to achieve significant loss of fat mass was the group that exercised four times per week. The average weight loss was 13.3 lbs, and there was no difference between those of different ages or between men and women. This study suggests that exercise does not need to be difficult or overly intense to be effective. Despite the claims of various "experts," there is no secret to weight loss beyond that which we already know to be true.
~ Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research

Monday, March 22, 2010

Nostalgic Sodas

Soft drink companies are now turning to sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup to sweeten beverages "for a limited time only." Be it for improved taste or the result of the beating the HFCS has taken lately in the news; the "throwback" soft drinks are no better for you. Chemically, sugar and HFCS contain similar amounts of glucose and fructose, both contain about 50 calories per tablespoon, and neither are hardly a health food.
Carbonated beverages also contain phosphorous; a nutrient with a double-edged blade. Even flavored "fizzy" waters contain phosphorous. Phosphorous combines with calcium to harden bones and teeth. As we age, and our ability to absorb calcium decreases, the excess phosphorous tends to harden the soft tissue in the joints for people prone to osteoarthritis, and can aggravate the disease.
Osteoporosis and low bone density has also been linked to soda consumption. Again, excess phosphorous in the blood stimulates a hormonal reaction that signals the breakdown of bone (removing calcium from the bone and replenishing the blood with calcium), in order to balance the two minerals in the blood. Both minerals are then excreted by the kidneys.
Keep bones and joints healthy for life by limiting or even omitting carbonated beverages from your diet. Opt for iced teas, fruit juice, skim milk, or better yet, water!
~Tufts University

Sunday, March 21, 2010

More Bogus Health Claims

The "healing miracle of coconut oil" is nothing more than fiction from the latest best seller rack. In reality, coconut oil is a saturated fat, which can raise LDL (bad) cholesterol and contribute to heart disease. There is no scientific basis to back the claims that are being passed along. According to the USDA Nutrient Data Lab, one tablespoon of coconut oil contains 11.7 grams of saturated fat and 117 calories. Save the coconut oil for sunbathing.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Omega Craze = Mega Confusion

It's complicated; it's chemistry! A fatty acid is an organic compound composed of a carbon chain with hydrogens attached and an acid group at one end. A polyunsaturated fatty acid has two or more double bonds. Omega is used by chemists to refer to the position of the first double bond found in the chain, and are numbered accordingly. Thus, we refer to the Omega "oils" or fats that are essential to human physiology by numbers.
The Omega of focus is the Omega-3, or "alphabet soup." EPA (eicosapentanoic acid), DHA (docosahexanoic acid) and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). EPA and DHA come from fish, and ALA comes from plants (flax, nuts, soybeans, etc). Plant based ALA must be converted to EPA to become active, and is less potent. Women seem to be metabolically better at converting ALA to EPA than men.
Why are they so important? They decrease clotting and lower triglycerides, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. They have also been shown to curb the risk of an irregular heart beat, or arrythmia. The brain is also rich in DHA and studies have shown improved symptoms in people with major depression. Incidence of macular degeneration (blindness) is shown to be 25% less in people who eat fish. They are also an anti-inflammatory; helping to relieve symptoms of arthritis and allergies. Studies are currently underway to find if they lower the risk of rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases. Omega-3's are essential for fetal brain and kidney development, so it is vital for pregnant women to get enough.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in cold water fatty fish - salmon (NOT farm raised), herring, mackerel, tuna, trout, and sardines. The American Heart Association recommends two servings (4-6 oz. ea.) per week. That supplies about 400 to 500 mg. of EPA & DHA per day (fat based nutrients stay in our bodies longer). Fish oil-in-a-pill may only contain about 30% EPA & DHA, so read the label. Ignore the other omega's in the bottle of fish oil supplements - you don't need them. They're plentiful in the diet. Consumer Reports claim all major brands are mercury-free. As for the mercury in fish, usually the larger and "older" fish contain more, so avoid sea bass and shark. Cod liver oil is not recommended as a supplement since the liver is a filter; the mercury is concentrated in that organ. Nutrients in other foods we eat (especially broccoli) help to detox heavy metals found in our environment, so don't be afraid of sea food. Look for other foods now fortified with omega-3's such as margarines, eggs (Eggland's Best), soy milk, orange juice, peanut butter...
If you have risk factors for heart disease such as high triglycerides, or if you are pregnant or breast feeding, talk to your doctor or a dietitian about an appropriate supplement.
~National Eye Institute, Bethesda, MD

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

March is National Nutrition Month

As the 2010 Winter Olympics have just come to a close, the American Dietetic Association's annual National Nutrition Month is finally here. This year's theme, From the Ground Up, celebrates the return of a growing trend across the U.S. where consumers are utilizing farmer's markets. For a variety of reasons, consumers are developing a loyalty to their local growers. People value the variety of the produce available, they want to support their local economy and farmers, and in the process, rejecting imported produce due to questionable food quality and safety. Even institutional food service systems such as schools, are purchasing from local growers. Farmer's markets and community gardens also have the potential to improve access to and utilization of fresh produce to low income communities, and be an avenue for optimizing the health of Americans.

Boost your nutritional fitness this month by trying one new food each day from the fruit and vegetable group.

Drink at least one or two cups of skim or 1% milk; have it by the glass, in cereal, in coffee, or in recipes.

Plan a treat that adds up to 100 calories (two small cookies, or 4 small pieces of chocolate for example).

Don't waste more than one bite on any food that doesn't taste good (or is not worth the calories).

Have breakfast within an hour or two of waking up; include 1 cup low fat/skim milk, 1/2 ounce nuts/seeds or 1 Tbsp nut butter or 1 egg, and at least one whole grain (oatmeal, whole wheat cereal, whole grain bread or English muffin or pita).

Instead of having your usual fruit-on-the-bottom or flavored yogurt, go for plain low- or non-fat yogurt (or Greek yogurt) and add 1/2 cup of berries, 1-2 tbsp of nuts, seeds, or dried fruit, or 1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce.

Instead of a whole sandwich, have only half; balance the meal out with fresh fruit or some grilled or raw veggies.

Have 4-6 ounces of fish, healthfully prepared (unbreaded, unfried).

To boost fiber, replace your usual 100% fruit juice with 1 cup or a piece of fresh fruit (like a whole orange, apple, or cup of berries or pineapple).

Go meatless for the day; incorporate other protein-rich foods like beans, peanut butter, soy foods like tofu or tempeh, low fat dairy foods, and whole grains.

Instead of going out to eat, ordering in, or getting take out, cook or prepare all your food at home for the day.

Think about what you should eat more of, and not what you “shouldn't” eat.

Try one of these suggestions each day for the entire month, or at the very least infuse several of these into your life more often. If you do, you'll likely lose weight and feel energized and great, not to mention markedly improve the overall quality of your diet.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Sodium Radar Screen

Excess salt in the diet raises blood pressure, which raises the risk of heart disease and stroke. A recent study from Europe included 170,000 participants and revealed that by reducing sodium intake to 2000 mg a day could lead to 23% fewer strokes and 17% less cardiovascular disease. That translates to 1.25 million deaths due to stroke and nearly 3 million deaths each year from cardiovascular disease could be avoided.
The average American consumes around 4000 mg of sodium a day.
Sodium is an electrolyte and a necessary nutrient. The daily requirement for the healthy adult is approx 2000 - 3000 mg per day. Sodium sensitive adults with hypertension are usually advised to limiting their sodium intake to 1000 - 2000 mg per day. It's wise for everyone to be aware of their sodium intake and adjust accordingly.
To avoid excess salt, check the Nutrition Facts panels on packages to find lower-sodium foods. Many canned and processed foods are extremely high in sodium - especially soups. Beware of misleading labels; "Sea Salt" is sodium chloride - same as table salt. It is a coarser grain so you get less in a measured spoonful; it is not a magic "low sodium" form of salt. Sea salt adds only a flavor variation and does not contain iodine. Regular table salt is fortified with iodine as recommended by the USDA to reduce iodine insufficiency that leads to thyroid disorders and related diseases.
Another way to reduce sodium intake is to eat more fresh foods prepared from scratch. This way you can control the amount of salt added. Use herbs and seasonings to add flavor. Salt substitutes can interact with some medications, so check with your doctor or a dietitian if you are taking a prescription medication.
~ British Medical Journal, 2009