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Confused About Carbohydrates?

November 12, 2009

Here’s an excellent piece from that explains why getting the right  carbs is important for maintaining energy and fueling workouts.  Plus, there are links to some interesting recipes.


Your Guide to Guilt-Free Overeating

November 11, 2009

holidayfoodFrom Eating Well magazine, three healthy ways to counteract the inevitable holiday indulgences.

House of Representatives to American Women: “Drop Dead”

November 10, 2009

Yes, a health insurance reform bill passed the House of Representatives this weekend, to which I say “thanks for nothing.”  There’s a long list of problems with the bill, starting with the fact  that the health system change some of us thought we were voting for last year won’t even start to kick in until 2013.  So if you don’t mind waiting at least three years to get that broken leg/cancer surgery/ruptured spleen/heart attack, etc. fixed, then it’s a great bill.

But aside from picky little things like waiting for years and watching insurance companies hike their rates to whatever they feel you should be charged (the bill has no premium caps) and other issues that our representatives thought were just fine, the bill also includes the heinous Stupak-Pitts amendment that places impossibly strict limitations on abortion.

According to the Stupak-Pitts amendment, the public insurance option cannot cover abortions. In addition, a woman who is receiving a government subsidy to help pay for her insurance premiums cannot choose a plan that covers abortion. The only exceptions are cases where the mother’s life is in danger or the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest.  (Read more about how this amendment restricts women’s right to choose in this analysis in Mother Jones magazine.)

ABC News political contributor Donna Brazile summed up the Stupak-Pitts amendment nicely on “This Week with George Stephanopolous”:

“This pretty much outlaws abortion for even people with private insurance,” Brazile said. “This is an onerous burden on women for their reproductive health care. And I hope that they can get it removed in the Senate and also in conference.”

Right now, there’s a lot of talk about this disastrous amendment.  But one of the most cogent arguments I’ve read is from “angry mouse” at DailyKos, who really blew me away with her diary, “I’m done talking about abortion.” The entire piece is worth reading, but this one line sums it up beautifully:

“Either women are full and equal citizens of this country, with the exact same rights that men have — including autonomy of our bodies — or we are not.”

Brilliant in its simplicity and absolutely right on the money. Thank you, Angry Mouse!

Bad Food = Bad Mood

November 10, 2009

FakeBigBurgerNeed another reason to avoid fast food? Here’s an excellent one.  In the first study of its kind, researchers looked at the diets of nearly 3,500 people and found that those who ate the most fast food were most likely to have symptoms of depression.

According to the study’s authors:   “Our results suggest that consuming fruits, vegetables and fish may afford protection against the onset of depressive symptoms, whereas a diet rich in processed meat, chocolates, sweetened desserts, fried food, refined cereals and high-fat dairy products would increase people’s vulnerability.”

Read more about the fast food/depression link here.

Weight Gain, Cravings and Cholesterol Issues: Could It Be Syndrome X?

November 6, 2009

thin person It may sound like something out of the latest science fiction   blockbuster, but Syndrome X is not some super-villain dreamed up in a Hollywood studio. It’s a very real health condition we should all take seriously. Medical experts estimate that as many as one in three Americans live with Syndrome X and its potential consequences.

Here are a few of the most common symptoms:

* Weight gain, particularly in the abdominal area, that doesn’t budge with diet and/or exercise

* Post-meal fatigue

* Cravings for sweets and carbohydrates

* Increases in triglycerides, blood sugar and blood pressure

* Unhealthy good/bad cholesterol ratio

Individually, none of these symptoms are cause for alarm, even though they’re not beneficial to anyone’s health. But when most or all of them occur simultaneously, Syndrome X is most likely to blame. And that means an increased risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and other complications.

If those symptoms look familiar, don’t panic  — there’s plenty that can be done to turn Syndrome X around. The best place to begin is with an overview of what the condition is and how it develops.

Syndrome X, also known as metabolic syndrome or insulin resistance, signals difficulties with the body’s ability to use insulin efficiently. Insulin is the hormone charged with regulating how our bodies metabolize fat, sugar and protein. Insulin is a multi-tasker. Its primary goal is to keep a lid on blood sugar levels, because excessive blood sugar can wreak havoc throughout the body and in the brain. To do that, insulin signals the brain when it’s time to stop eating, and it also acts like a traffic cop, directing food to the cells and telling them what to do with it.

When all systems are in working order, we eat a meal, and then the pancreas releases a measured amount of insulin into the bloodstream, nutrients are distributed appropriately and all’s well. But when the process goes awry, fat storage fails and blood sugar monitoring goes haywire.  Insulin hits the bloodstream, but the cells ignore it and blood sugar levels remain high. The pancreas secretes more insulin, hoping to correct the situation. But that too fails. Many of the cells’ insulin receptor sites have been wiped out. The end results: rising triglyceride levels and food that should have been converted to energy stored as fat instead. If the process continues, type 2 diabetes may develop.

But why do cells resist insulin in the first place?  The simple answer is overload, due to a diet with too much sugar and carbohydrates. Ideally, the pancreas releases a limited amount of insulin, only enough to process blood sugar. But when it’s faced with a barrage of sugary beverages and simple carbohydrates from processed and junk foods, the pancreas goes into overdrive, ramping up production of insulin in a desperate attempt to keep up.

Although it’s being seen in younger and younger people these days, Syndrome X is normally a condition that develops over time, after years of bad eating habits and sugar indulgence. Of course, if you’ve ever looked at the fine print on food labels, you know that sugar comes in many forms and can be found in the most unlikely places, including things like salad dressing, prepared pasta sauces and bread.

Sugar can’t take all the blame, though. Simple carbohydrates, especially those found in starchy, processed foods also contribute to the problem. (Just to clarify the carbohydrate issue, keep in mind that the worst offenders are those found in fast food and junk snacks. Fruits and other healthy foods also contain simple carbs, but they also supply loads of nutrients and fiber.)

Artificial sweeteners play a role in the development of Syndrome X, too. Products like NutraSweet™, as well as those made with sucrose, a popular sugar substitute consisting of fructose and glucose, rob the body of chromium, a trace mineral that supports insulin’s functions and maximize its effectiveness. And here’s a frightening fact: sucrose accounts for somewhere between 20 and 40 percent of the calories eaten by the typical American.  No wonder Syndrome X is on the rise!

What can you do to avoid or reverse Syndrome X? Plenty! For starters, here are some suggestions from the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute:

  • Aim for a body-mass index (BMI) below 25 (calculate yours here) . Talk to your doctor about healthy ways to do this.
  • Watch your waistline! Women should keep the measuring tape at 35 inches or less, and men need to stay under 40 inches.
  • Build your diet around low-fat, high-fiber foods, non-starchy vegetables and lean protein.
  • Make exercise part of your day, every day (with your physician’s okay first, of course). Choose activities you enjoy – yoga, dancing, walking, swimming, biking or whatever is fun, interesting or makes you feel good. The goal is to make movement part of each day, not some temporary measure just to lose weight.
  • Visit your doctor regularly,  so that you can stay on top of changes in blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood sugar, and make appropriate adjustments to your regimen.

With reasonable lifestyle changes, you can restore healthy blood sugar levels, lose weight, avoid catastrophic health complications and say good-bye to Syndrome X.

Control Bowl: One Easy Way To Eat Less

October 29, 2009

bowlActually, it’s called the Measure Up Bowl (shown on the right) and it’s designed to help down-size portions.  This is a brilliant idea, because it’s way too easy to overlook the fact that the portion sizes on nutrition labels are often much smaller than we might like.

Example: an ice cream label shows 180 calories per serving, but that’s for a mere  one-half cup portion. How many of us actually pay attention to those portion sizes or measure to make sure we’re only getting that amount? Plus, there’s the fact that half a cup looks pretty lonely in a big bowl and it’s realllllly tempting to add a spoonful or two more because … well, just because it’s only a spoonful and you’ll do some extra walking tomorrow or skip a doughnut at work and so on, even though we all know those thoughts have the lifespan of a fruit fly.

The Measure Up Bowl is well marked to prevent those indulgences and help you stay on track with portion sizes. My only complaint is the price tag.  For $13.99 (and up), you could buy a couple sets of measuring cups and keep them near the dinnerware.  But, if you like the convenience of having a pre-marked bowl, go for it! Whatever works, as they say …

When It Comes to Good Health, Vitamin D Delivers

October 28, 2009

woman in sun

According to conventional wisdom, we should be wary of anything that sounds too good to be true. But vitamin D is shaping up as an exception to that rule — and a true superstar among nutrients. Although it was discovered nearly 100 years ago, vitamin D was long believed to have only one important role – maintaining healthy bones. As a result, it was added to milk in the 1930s, as a way to combat the high incidence of rickets in children – and then pretty much forgotten.

How things change! During the past decade, a steady stream of news from researchers all over the world is proving that vitamin D helps protect us against such serious health concerns as cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders, several types of cancer (including breast, colon and prostate), diabetes, emotional difficulties, such as depression and bipolar disorder, muscle function and gum health.

And there’s more! Just consider this small sampling of good news from the vitamin D front:

  • Vitamin D supports better brain function in older individuals, according to the findings of a recent clinical trial. Researchers at Tufts University found the best cognitive test scores among subjects with high blood levels of the nutrient. Those with high levels of vitamin D were better at “executive functions,” such as organizing, planning and thinking in the abstract.
  • Vitamin D’s role in how well our muscles operate was underscored by a new study showing that low levels of the nutrient during pregnancy makes a woman four times more likely to have a cesarean section. The same researchers were also struck by separate findings showing that fully three-fourths of the women in the study and their babies had low vitamin D levels, even though they had been taking prenatal vitamins and drinking vitamin D-fortified milk while pregnant. Coincidentally, a new study from Turkey found that infants with low vitamin D levels are more vulnerable to developing respiratory infections.
  • Add prostate cancer to the list of cancers vitamin D may help protect against. Findings reported in the British Journal of Cancer show that the disease resulted in six times fewer fatalities for men with the most vitamin D in their bodies when compared to men with lower levels.
  • There’s more news on the cancer front, too. A recent review of research involving vitamin D, cancer and sunlight (ultraviolet B or UVB) concluded that sun-associated vitamin D was linked to lower levels of colon and breast cancers, as well as kidney and ovarian cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

What’s the sunlight connection? Our bodies can produce vitamin D on their own when exposed to sunlight. Sounds simple, right? Even though making that happen only takes about 20 minutes of daily sun exposure (and please work up to that amount gradually, to avoid burning), there are actually a few factors that may interfere. First, the skin must be free of sunscreen, sun blocks and clothing, which interfere with the process.

Second, the sunlight-vitamin D conversion process is not nearly as effective for people of color. Third, age plays a role; individuals over age 50 are not efficient converters, so even with proper sun exposure, they’re likely to be deficient in the nutrient.

Finally, there’s geography. Sunlight during winter months is not intense enough in northern areas. If we drew a line from Los Angeles to Atlanta, people living in the zone above the line would not be getting adequate sun, so no amount of sun exposure will help.

How many people are at risk from low vitamin D levels? The short answer is millions! One doctor I work with says that 90 percent of her patients are getting too little of this important nutrient, and she’s based in Southern California! Similar figures were found in a new analysis of federal government health data; researchers reported too little vitamin D in three-fourths of American surveyed.  Just twenty years ago, that figure was strikingly lower — only one half of the population was deficient in vitamin D.

A simple blood test is all that’s required to determine your vitamin D level, and ideally it should be done annually. Your physician can recommend appropriate supplements of vitamin D3, the preferred form.

Supplements are inexpensive and yes, they probably are necessary. A few foods – salmon, sardines, mackerel and fortified milk — are helpful when it comes to increasing vitamin D intake. But even if you’re a fish fan or drink milk regularly, it’s difficult to obtain the daily dose of 1,000 to 2,000 IU or more recommended by many health authorities just from food.

Even the conservative federal government guidelines — 200 IU for adults up to age 50, 400 IU between 51 and 70 and 800 IU for those 71 and up — are unlikely to be achieved only through diet. And be aware that the adult doses are currently under review, since so many authorities believe they are inadequate. Meanwhile; the American Academy of Pediatrics recently upped its recommendation for children from 200 IU to 400 IU daily.

One caution: As with most things in life, moderation is a worthy goal. Baking in the sun without sunscreen for hours or taking mega-doses of supplements are not good ways to fortify your body with vitamin D. Follow the experts’ guidelines, enjoy some time in the sun, eat well and provide your body with reasonable amounts of the supplements it needs to work best – and you will notice a difference in your health!

Need more information? The Vitamin D Council has a great collection of free articles and other resources.