Archive for the ‘Medical and Health Studies’ Category
Have you ever felt out of control with your eating? Like you just couldn’t stop even though you wanted to and knew you should?
If so, you probably felt a certain amount of guilt, or even shame, about how much you eventually did eat. That guilt made you feel bad about your own ability for self-control, and that, coupled with a food-hangover, made you feel pretty terrible in general. Physically and emotionally. You wouldn’t be alone if this turned into a destructive cycle that brought you back again and again for that very same food, followed by guilt and depression. Perhaps this even happened with seemingly healthy or “diet” foods. Even worse!
A fascinating article came out recently in the New York Times Magazine called The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food that explains why it’s so hard to put down the snack bag – and it’s NOT your lack of willpower. I just want to say that again, and in obnoxious all-caps: IT’S NOT YOUR LACK OF WILLPOWER.
It’s been known for quite a while that sugar and fat are addictive – this article in Scientific American describes how rats, given access to high-fat foods, “showed some of the same characteristics as animals hooked on cocaine or heroin–and found it hard to quit even when given electric shocks”. In non-technical terms, when you eat high-fat and high-sugar foods, your brain releases chemicals (neurotransmitters) that make you happy. This makes you more likely to eat that food again. After a few times you become desensitized to that food “high” and need more to get the same level of satisfaction. Therefore you eat more and more. It works just like drugs, with the lovely side effects of becoming fat, nutrient deficient, and probably depressed.
Food manufacturers, however, don’t just leverage high levels of fat and sugar to hook you on their food, although that’s part of it. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent by giants like General Mills, Kraft, and Nabisco, to create food products (I can’t call it food) that encourage you, the consumer, to eat as much as possible. They have actually discovered ways to bypass the body’s natural regulation systems that would normally tell you to stop.
Here’s an example, as described by food scientist Steven Witherly:
“‘[Cheetos are] one of the most marvelously constructed foods on the planet, in terms of pure pleasure.’ He ticked off a dozen attributes of the Cheetos that make the brain say more. But the one he focused on most was the puff’s uncanny ability to melt in the mouth. ‘It’s called vanishing caloric density,’ Witherly said. ‘If something melts down quickly, your brain thinks that there’s no calories in it . . . you can just keep eating it forever.’”
In this way food companies are maximixing pleasure while minimizing satiety. It’s the perfect storm for you, and the perfect money-maker for them. Which, let’s be honest, is the primary goal of a large food product company – to make lots of money, keep share-holders happy, and continue to grow.
The important thing to realize in all of this is that 1) these food products are not real food and 1) your body does have a beautiful regulation system that will work, if you eat foods that are real. Have you ever over-eaten bananas? Or oatmeal? Probably not. Because when you eat these foods your body will naturally tell you when it’s time to stop. You will feel pleasantly full and satisfied.
If you have a food addiction, realize that it is an addiction that will have to be broken. And the cure isn’t so unpleasant, as it’s to focus your diet on real foods that are naturally satisfying. It takes a little time, and can benefit from a few tricks during the process, but it’s well worth the effort. You’ll feel freedom you haven’t felt in years.
If you’d like support in breaking a food addiction and discovering real food, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A few things have contributed to my writing a post about fiber supplements. First, I had a baby 6 weeks ago. If you’ve ever popped out a baby, you know why this is relevant, and if you haven’t, you can probably figure it out. Second, I read an interesting article on how prevalent chronic constipation is in young kids and how it can be a big problem for years if not addressed. Kids who get freaked out by pooping or have a bad experience can tend to hold it in as long as possible and actually stretch out their little colons. This can lead to their inability to tell when they have to poop. Poor little guys. Third, I have a potty-training toddler who happened to start freaking out when she needs to poop. Having just read this article, I wanted to ensure that she’d avoid the above-described uncomfortable and potentially dangerous fate.
So, the best all-natural fiber supplement is, in my opinion, psyllium seed husk. I came across psyllium seed husk when doing research for a client. What’s interesting about it is that it’s equally effective for constipation as well as diarhea, making it ideal for people with irritable bowel syndrome. It bulks the stool (therefore binding it) and softens it. All in all it’s a great digestive regulator. It’s all-natural, cheap and effective. And it’s totally tasteless. When I was diagnosed with IBS by a doctor many years ago I was told to take a metamucil fiber wafer each day. It didn’t help, tasted disgusting, and had a lot of sugar in it. This is much more pleasant and effective.
When I recently had my baby I found that two tablespoons a day dissolved in water was the right amount for me. I also discovered that if you stir it into apple juice (those little apple juices at the hospital were the perfect size!) and let it sit for a few minutes, it thickens and takes almost exactly like apple sauce.
This is how I discovered an awesome trick for toddlers and any kid who needs digestive regulating. My freaked out toddler was holding in her poop, poor kid, and because I didn’t want to kick-off any chronic constipation issues I began offering her a little “apple sauce” as a treat. She loves it. I simply take a tablespoon of psyllium seed husk and mix in enough apple cider to form an apple-sauce like consistency.
It is important to let the mixture sit long enough for it to fully bulk up – at least 5 minutes. You don’t want to swallow it while the fiber is still expanding – there’s even a warning on the packae that it can get stuck in your throat if you do – so be patient and add more liquid if necessary.
I would recommend psyllium seed husk as a supplement to anyone who could use a little help in the digestive department. Of course, if you’re experiencing chronic digestive issues it’s best to understand the underlying issue and address it. But for temporary issues that we all experience, this product can’t be beat.
“We have completely changed our association with the microbial world. There is a price to pay for our good intentions.” ~ Scientific American, June 2012
There is a fascinating article in June 2012′s Scientific American titled: “The Ultimate Social Network: Your Inner Ecosystem” that discusses how our intestinal microbial flora is changing with modern life, and the consequences of those changes. If you think you’re alone in your body, you’re quite mistaken: bacteria cells actually outnumber human cells by a factor of 10:1. And while the thought of those little buggers might gross you out, many of them actually have beneficial impacts on how our bodies function. Here are some highlights from the article:
- Newborns, which are sterile in the womb, pick up beneficial microbes in the birth canal and then from breastfeeding, touching other humans, surfaces, pets, etc. It doesn’t take long- late infancy, for their microbial environment to develop trillions of cells
- Many bacteria complete functions that our own cells can not, such as produce specialized substances that are beneficial to the body or provide a regulation system for various functions. For example, certain bacteria in the gut synthesize enzymes that create B12 – a critical vitamin that is difficult to find in nature
- Bacteria in the gut also help to digest food for us by breaking down long and complex molecules into digestible pieces
- H Pylori, which is most commonly villainized as the cause of stomach ulcers, actually has a beneficial regulatory effect on appetite. In years past as many as 80-90% of us has H Pylori in our stomachs, where post-meals it would decrease ghrelin, which stimulates appetite. One study found that individuals treated with antibiotics to remove H Pylori gained more weight than those who weren’t treated.
- Another microbe, B. fragilis, may help to prevent autoimmune disorders, however it, too is disappearing from our bodies. One researcher cited in the article states that the 7-8x increase in autoimmune disorders may be attributable to the lack of this and possibly other microbes.
The article is chock full of more interesting research and information. Unfortunately there’s no direct link to the article, however, you can listen here to an interview with the author. One thing we know for sure is that exposure to nature (i.e. playing in dirt!) helps build a healthy microbial system, and eating fermented foods such as sauerkraut and yogurt can also help.
Being sick is the pits, but it’s helpful to know that there are real steps you can take to improve your immunity and lessen the odds that you end up with that cold or flu bug flying around the office. Here are 6 simple, effective ways to ensure your immune system is in good shape. Keep in mind that most of these are long-term strategies, not 2 or 3 day cures. By the time you’ve gotten the cold there are a few things you can do to weather it better, but it’s best to avoid it all together.
- Take notice of your digestion Your gut and your immune system are so intimately linked that some experts state that “80% of your immune system” is actually in your intestines. Healthy intestinal “flora” (read: good bacteria) not only help you digest your food an assimilate nutrients, but they help create an environment that allows your immune system to protect you from potentially dangerous viruses and bacteria. If your digestion isn’t good take steps to fix it (read below).
- Eat fermented foods, or take probiotics No, I’m not talking about beer. Traditional fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and miso contain beneficial bacteria called probiotics that are excellent for your digestion. The fermented vegetables, such as cabbage, have the additional benefit of excellent levels of vitamin C and some other nutrients which are also helpful for preventing and fighting bugs. Amaze yourself by making your own sauerkraut. It has to be the real deal: frequently the stuff they sell in the store is actually pickled, not fermented, so you’ll have to ask or check labels. If that’s too much work for you (it’s not that bad, I swear!) try taking probiotics. A recent study found that probiotic supplements was effective in reducing the number of colds.
- Take active steps to manage stress Too much negative stress (remember learning about eustress and distress in health class?) has very real consequences on your health – it’s well documented that depression can weaken the immune system. Most of us live lives that contain daily stressors, so it’s important to counteract those stressors with things that de-stress. Get a massage, take the time to read a good book, spend time enjoying your friends and family. Make sure your support system is healthy and if it’s not, figure out how to get it there. Life is short: find a way to live it that is enjoyable for you on a daily basis.
- Eat seasonally It’s amazing how nature provides us what we need, when we need it. Citrus is a winter fruit – it’s in season now - eat it up! Loading up on winter fruits and vegetables will load you with vitamins, minerals, carotenoids and other micro-nutrients that will keep you healthy. Think winter squashes, cold-weather dark greens, citrus, and traditionally preserved goodies (like sauerkraut).
- Take garlic If you know me well, you know my love for garlic. Garlic is both a broad-spectrum anti-biotic and has powerful anti-fungal and anti-viral properties. I take a clove or two of smashed garlic a day when exposed to a cold. Crush it with a blunt surface, remove the skin, and swallow it like a pill (a mouthful of rice or another soft food helps it go down). I swear by it and so do other health experts.
- Get your vitamin D – one way or another Vitamin D is critical immune system function, and unless you’re getting significant exposure year-round to direct sunlight, you’re probably deficient in it (estimates are 80-90% of people north of Atlanta are deficient). A growing body of research links lack of vitamin D to an increasing list of health problems, from depression to cancer. You can get some vit D in some foods (dairy is supplemented, fatty fish such as sardines and salmon have some) but it’s hardly ever enough. Take a D3 supplement, at least 1,000mg daily, to be sure.
All of this, of course, should be complimentary to a generally healthy diet and lifestyle. Eating a rainbow of colors each day, getting regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight are foundational.
I’ve gotten a few questions lately about healthy cookware, which is a great question to ask. Non-stick cookware was introduced as a healthy alternative to regular, the justification being that less oil would need to be used to cook meats and vegetables. However, we now know it’s not that simple, as the chemicals used to make a pan non-stick have health consequences of their own.
Let’s start with Teflon, the most common non-stick coating. It has an interesting history, for sure! Technically Teflon is a chemical called polytetraflouroethylene, or PTFE, and it was invented all the way back in 1938. It had some industrial uses before it started to appear in commercial cookware in the early 50s. Dupont, the company that patented the technology, “avoided the market for consumer cookware due to potential problems associated with release of toxic gases if stovetop pans were overheated in inadequately ventilated spaces” (Wikipedia). PTFE is still used today in non-stick cookware, and the concerns about high-heat cooking are still valid. Basically, heat the pan much hotter than 300 degrees and toxic fumes can be release – this is regardless of whether the pan is scratched, although scratches will make the integrity of the product even worse.
PTFE is not the only non-stick coating; PFOA is also widely used. Unfortunately PFOA is no better than PTFE health-wise, possibly it’s worse. This is a good article about the dangers of PFOA, which include cancer, low birth weight, birth defects, suppressed immune system and possibly raised cholesterol levels. Again, the chemical is transmitted through high-heat cooking that causes toxic fumes to rise off of the cooking surface. The fumes can also kill birds, which are known to be sensitive to such chemicals. And the pans don’t have to get that hot: somewhere in the high 300′s/low 400s - around the smoke point of many vegetable oils. Pans that are left on the stove for only a few minutes can reach temperatures as high as 700 degrees, and it only takes a fraction of a second to release those fumes.
There are some new technogies for non-stick pans, such as the Scan Pan. These use a ceramic-titanium technology that contains no PFOA but still contains some PTFE. Because of their patented manufacturing process the cookware is supposed to be safe under 500 degrees, although they still recommend leaving birds out of the kitchen when cooking!
Another new technology is Thermolon, or “Greenpan”, which does not use PFOA or PFTE. However, there are still some concerns about whether their nano-technology and silicon materials used are safe. It’s a relatively new product that appears to need more testing to really know for sure.
Here’s the bottom line, as far as I’m concerned:
- Buy stainless steel cookware and use it for your normal cooking. Extra virgin olive oil is good for you, so use some of it for regular sauteeing (although be sure not to heat it above it’s smoke point, at which point the oil’s chemical properties change and it becomes a health hazard).
- Limit your non-stick cookware to applications where you really need it, say pancakes, crepes, and eggs. Cook on medium-low temperatures.
- Never use non-stick cookware for high-heat cooking. If you want do any type of browning or searing do it on your stainless and just wait until the product is fully cooked before trying to flip it – this should ensure its release. (Make sure you’re using a high-heat oil such as canola for this application – don’t let any oil smoke).
- Don’t use any non-stick cookware with a surface that’s compromised with scratches. This just makes chemical emissions more likely.
- Also avoid aluminum cooking surfaces. The connection between Alzheimer’s Disease and aluminum is still uncertain, so better safe than sorry.
- Other good cooking surfaces are cast iron, glass and ceramic, which are stable and chemical emission-free.
I hope that helps! I think it’s worth investing in a good-quality stainless cookware set, which will last you a lifetime. Eat Happy!
I thought about that title for a while before publishing this post, believe me. But I just can’t get around how true it is…and I’ll get to my logic in a minute. First the background: a couple weeks ago Congress changed parts of a bill that contained nutritional requirements for the National School Lunch Program. In an effort to slow down the devastating increase in childhood obesity and diabetes, the law had several proposed changes, essentially amounting to more vegetables, less salt, more whole grains, and fewer french fries. Congress changed it back: eliminating or delaying these updates. Why? Because the frozen foods, potato and salt lobbies wanted them to ($wonder why$).
Most public schools participate in the National School Lunch program:
“The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program operating in over 101,000 public and non‐profit private schools and residential child care institutions. It provided nutritionally balanced, low‐cost or free lunches to more than 31 million children each school day in 2010.” (Italics are mine.)
This is a tremendous amount of food: 31 million children x 270 school days per year = 7,440,000,000 meals (that’s nearly 7 and a half billion). To receive reimbursement a school must follow nutritional guidelines established by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). Those regulations currently mandate a certain number of vegetables and fruits and provide general quidelines around numbers and percentages of calories (from fat, carbs, protein, sugar, etc). Even children who don’t qualify for free or reduced price meals participate in the program, as their meals are still reimbursed, just at a lower rate.
Those all seem like pretty reasonable guidelines. So why does school lunch frequently look like a piece of pizza, side of potatoes, and chocolate milk? Because currently legislation allows 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, the amount on a frozen pizza, to count as a vegetable. Pizza is therefore one of the two vegetables on the plate. French fries are the other.
Presumably, nutritional guidelines were originally instituted to ensure that these millions of kids are fed nutritious foods that enable them to thrive, vs. junk foods that make them prone to illness and sluggishness. Well it doesn’t take a nutritionist to know what is healthy and what is not: fresh fruits and vegetables are healthy, processed foods like pizza and french fries are not. These guidelines aren’t protecting anyone but industry, whose interests are at odds with the very kids they were supposed to protect.
Congress made the decision to backtrack on better nutritional guidelines because of industry pressure – specifically the potato, salt, and frozen foods industries. The updated guidelines would have required them to spend more money to change their products and use higher-quality, fresher ingredients. Can’t have that.
This is effectively choosing the interests of powerful lobbies over the interests of children. This makes me upset, largely because children do not have a legal voice. They can not vote. They need responsible adults to help guide them so they can meet their potential. And in this case, the adults who are supposed to be looking out for them have consciously enacted guidelines that promote harm, not health. This is very, very sad.
“What harm does a little pizza do?”, you might be asking yourself. Perhaps Congress justified their actions with the same light-hearted thought process. I like pizza, too – as a treat. The problem is that pizza, french fries, and other ultra-processed junk food have become staples, not treats. Halloween candy is great too – on Halloween. Birthday cake is fantastic- for birthdays. But all of this stuff that we know (intuitively, if not consciously) are “treats”, have become 95% of the meal, vs. the 5% they should be. Birthday cake every day for breakfast doesn’t make sense, and neither does the daily junk-fest for lunch. The result of this lack of common sense/imbalance is unprecedented obesity and diabetes. All preventable and reversible with diet and lifestyle choices.
Child abuse is a pretty serious allegation. But when adults knowingly do something that harms a child, I call it child abuse. What causes obesity and type II diabetes? Too much junk food and not enough healthy food. Obesity causes diabetes, diabetes shortens life span and dramatically reduce quality of life, and that is tangible, serious harm. Again, all preventable.
To tell your congressperson or senator that this bill is unacceptable, write or call. Get involved in your local school’s food program. See what you can do. Today’s kids have a shorter life expectancy than you do. This has to change.
Upgrate your dinner and give your immune system a boost by preparing homemade chicken stock. Why bother?
- It’s cheaper than buying chicken and stock separately
- It tastes way better
- Really does provide tons of minerals and boost your immune system
- Helps you avoid excess salt and junk like msg in canned stocks
- It’s really not that hard: your total time investment will probably be 20 minutes: the time it takes to fill a pot with water, turn on the stove, and then strain and pour liquid into jars.
Read detailed instructions and more on the health benefits here.
Wow are we Americans in a bad mood! The NIH (National Institute of Health) estimates that 21 million Americans suffer from mood disorders and about 15 million suffer from depression, and I would bet that the numbers are even higher. But those numbers represent 7 and 5% of the US population, respectively. The following is from The Mood Cure, by Julia Ross:
“We’re in a bad-mood epidemic, a hundred times more likely to have significant mood problems than people a hundred years ago. And these problems are on the rise. Adult rates of depression and anxiety have tripled since 1990, and over 80 percent of those who consult medical doctors today complain of excessive stress. Even our children are in trouble, with at least one in ten suffering from significant mood disorders.”
Tragic, but not hopeless. Your mood has everything to do with your brain chemistry – specifically your levels of “good mood” neurotransmitters like serotonin and tryptophan. Your brain chemistry is directly affected by what you eat. The foods that we eat serve as building blocks for various proteins and other chemicals in our bodies, including for those same brain chemicals. So while you can’t necessarily decide “I’m going to be in a good mood today”, you can decide to eat foods that will enable your brain to have the right chemical balance to support a good mood. Most anti-depressant medications just increase the accessibility of serotonin in the brain. You can do this naturally, without the nasty side-effects of medication (i.e. weight gain…there’s nothing like an extra 10 lbs to improve your mood!)
So what to eat? Different mood disorders may require slightly different choices, and I highly recommend anyone with mood troubles to read Julia Ross’s book to get specific suggestions. But in general, some of the worst mood foods and therefore foods to avoid include; artificial sweeteners, sugar, and stimulants like caffeine. Some of the best foods to eat are high in good-quality protein like wild salmon and free-range eggs, and also foods that have a high nutrient density, like dark leafy greens.
But it’s not so much about avoiding one particular thing, or adding one magic ingredient to your diet. It’s about changing the nutritional base. Get off the sugar and processed food roller-coaster, and start eating vegetables, whole grains, and naturally-raised animal products, and you can see your bad mood lift naturally.
(A quick disclaimer: I certainly don’t recommend anyone with a serious mental illness, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, to treat themselves with salmon and kale alone. This post is targeted to the majority of us who experience mild to moderate mood troubles such as anxiety and occasional depression.)
I didn’t know a single person with cancer until I was in high school, and 12 years later my 6th childhood/college friend was recently diagnosed. Carcinoma, leukemia, testicular, brain, melanoma, and Hodgkin’s. This is too many people – all in my small network and all in their mid 20s to early 30s when diagnosed – for me to comprehend! All young, and all male. It’s hard not to be scared by it all.
Cancer seems scarier than other health issues, I think, because we don’t feel like we have any control over it. I’ve done a lot of reading over the past year and a half or so to try to understand the link between diet and cancer, and what I now know is encouraging. Here is a nutshell of what I know for sure:
- Cancer will exist in all of us at some point in time. Cancer is really just a cell with mutated DNA that has lost its ability to stop replicating. This isn’t uncommon at all.
- Our cells are quite intelligent – there are multiple processes in place to repair cell DNA, stop the replication, and either kill the cell or turn it into a normal one.
- Chemicals found in plants – especially fruits and vegetables – help cells do this.
- We can create environments in our bodies that either encourages or discourages the proliferation of cancer. Two main factors: our level of inflammation and our alkalinity are especially important. Diet heavily impacts both.
If you’d like to learn more about how to eat in a way that encourages healthy cells and discourages cancer growth, I’d recommend two things: 1) watch Forks over Knives, and 2) read Natural Strategies for Cancer Patients, by Russell Blaylock. The book is especially helpful for those who have already experienced cancer, as it has recommendations for diet before, during and after conventional treatments. There is a lot you can do! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
I know that title is ridiculous, oh well. I just spent 20 minutes in the tuna aisle at Whole Foods trying to figure out which canned tuna to use for a recipe I’m trying out for next week’s No Plan Meal Plan. (It’s a tasty tuna and white bean salad, btw, and takes about 5 minutes to make). Anyways, I almost never buy tuna, so my tuna-selecting skills were a little rusty. When I got there it occurred to me that I’m still nursing, so I should probably be as careful as possible, not to mention that many NPMP subscribers have small kids. I ended up googling for help on my Droid, which took me to this very helpful site.
It can get a little confusing, with the different types of tuna and the various catch methods, regions, and labeling. But basically, as far as mercury is concerned Light Tuna is going to be better than Chunk White Tuna, almost always. That’s because Light is usually Skipjack tuna, which is a much smaller species and thus accumulates fewer toxins (about 1/3 the levels as albacore). And it’s cheaper. Regarding environmental and sustainability concerns it’s best to choose tuna that’s labeled as caught by troll/poll, which are methods that have low levels of by-catch (i.e. they’re less likely to snare Flipper). Now, some Light tuna is actually yellowfin, which is just as bad as Albacore, so I would recommend buying a brand that specifically says Skipjack and troll/poll caught. There you have it, now you can try out that tasty salad recipe, which will be making its debut next week - sign up by weds night to get your recipes, shopping list, and time-saving preparation tips for the week.