A blog about nothing.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

NUTRIENT DENSITY

What you eat each day has powerful ramifications, influencing your mood, energy level, productivity, health and wellbeing. What to include in your diet is of such paramount importance, it is easily one of the most important decisions you face in your daily routine. When choosing what to eat at your next meal, it makes sense to eat as much of the most nutritious foods as you can, since the more of these foods you consume, the more nutritious your diet is overall, just as, for example, adding more carats to a gemstone makes it more valuable, and all-cotton fabrics are more breathable and skin friendly than synthetic mixes. Choose your own analogy if these don't suffice. The more nutritional powerhouses you eat, the healthier your diet is overall. A meat-eater is limited to the vitamin/mineral content of animal products, as a meat-centric diet is defined by these deficient foods, while a plant-eater who overemphasizes processed carbohydrates (grains) and soy products suffers the digestive difficulties, weight gain, and energy deficits associated with these foods. By adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet, you increase the overall nutritional benefit, since plant foods - leafy greens, followed by other vegetables, followed by legumes and fruits - have the highest ANDI score, a measure of overall nutrition.

Choose unpackaged, unprocessed, raw or lightly cooked versions of your favorite vegetables, fruits, and beans. If you need a vacation from this road to nutritional excellence, help yourself to a judicious serving of your favorite whole grain now and then (quinoa, brown rice, oats), but eat these in moderation since they tend to be high in calories relative to other plant-based foods. Climb the ladder each day, starting with raw fruit for breakfast, eating a mostly or entirely raw lunch of fresh fruit and vegetable (leafy green), and enjoy a lightly cooked dinner choosing from dozens of delicious vegetables and legumes. After doing this for a period of days, weeks, maybe months, it will become second nature and you won't wish to eat any other way.

A wordy way of saying eat your fruits and veggies.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

ZZZZZs


The importance of sleep cannot be overestimated, as sleep is essential to overall health and wellbeing. The National Institutes of Health says:

"Without enough sleep, you can’t focus and pay attention or respond quickly. A lack of sleep may even cause mood problems. Also, growing evidence shows that a chronic lack of sleep increases your risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and infections."

How much is enough? If animals are any indication, carnivores tend to sleep more than herbivores, with meat-eaters like tigers requiring 16 hours of shut-eye per night to the leaf-eating giraffe's 2. As for humans, though individual "quotas" vary, and teenagers need more sleep than adults (generally between 9 and 10 hours), most grown-ups require at least 7 hours of sleep and as much as 9 hours or more!

Now you may think that you are an outlier, that you don't require even the bare minimum of what is recommended, and we all know people who function on 4 or 5 hours a night, but falsely elevating energy levels with caffeine, which overrides the body's ability to sense fatigue, can set you up for health problems down the road. One or two cups of java in the a.m. hours is one thing. But if you're functioning on a pot of coffee plus a shot or two of espresso and maybe a Red Bull or a 5-hour energy shot just to get you through the day you're probably sleep deprived. Not probably. You are!

So if your goal is weight loss, improved fitness/overall performance, enhanced mood and improved immunity, make sure you get enough ZZZZs.  And quality of sleep is important as well, since it is in deeper stages of sleep that your body releases important hormones such as human growth hormone, so refrain from drinking fluids in the evening (say, after 4 pm) so that you won't wake up more than once or twice per night to empty your bladder.

Good sleep hygiene includes going to bed at around the same time each night, and sleeping in a pitch dark room in total quiet. If you're smack dab in a big city, consider ear plugs to drown out ambient noise. Also, limit TV watching before bed in favor of relaxation techniques (breathing deeply and counting your breaths) or possibly some light reading. Watching your thoughts is another good strategy. Thoughts are like cockroaches and tend to disappear under close observation resulting in a clear mind and quicker onset of slumber. Finally, when choosing a night-time snack opt for foods with higher levels of tryptophan, a precursor to melatonin, which aids sleep. Bananas are a good option.

And remember to drink alcohol in moderation if at all. In amounts that exceed moderate levels (1 drink for a female, two for a male) alcohol is notorious for disrupting the sleep cycle, leading to headache, morning fogginess, and impairing memory and mood. Alcohol is also a diuretic and so drinking increases the likelihood you'll need to wake up to pee several times.

Of note: it may seem counter-intuitive, but the lighter/leaner you are, the more sleep you require. While heavier individuals may get by with closer to 7 hours per night, the lightest and leanest among us may require 9 hours or more. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, subjects needed more sleep as they lost weight, and sleep duration remained higher in the months that followed the study, provided they kept the weight off. The conclusion is simple: if you want an excuse to stay in bed an extra hour, get ripped, and you can say, "I'm lean, I need me my sleep!" And here's an added benefit: being lighter and leaner decreases daytime sleepiness and time to fall asleep. Do not expect to hear this from your doctor. One study, published in the May 2012 issue of Obesity found that 38 percent of doctors are overweight. That's more than the general population (33 percent)! Practice what you preach and others will hopefully do the same. Happy snoozing.


 

Monday, April 8, 2013

MULTISPORT


Fans of Malcolm Gladwell's best-selling book Outliers: The Story of Success will recognize the theory that, on average, it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate, efficient practice to produce expertise in a given field, irrespective of whether that field is chess, dance, swimming, etc. This theory was based on the careers of professional musicians who tended to start their 10,000 hours before they were even old enough to read!

In an era when human lifespans are the highest they've ever been and many are adopting second or third careers or even hobbies, starting from scratch at the age of, say, 30 or 40, makes the prospect of logging 10,000 hours (equivalent to working 40 hours a week every week for 5 years) somewhat daunting. But there is hope. A new school of thought posits that a phenomenon called interleaving may be a more effective way to train than simply slogging through hour upon hour of monotonous tasks, be it pounding ball after ball on the golf course, logging the miles en route to a marathon PR, or writing that first sellable novel. In other words, the number of hours you put in might not be as important as what you do with them. Interleaving is analogous to cross-training in the field of fitness, made popular for example by the Hansen brothers in their marathon training plan which dispenses with the long run in favor of shorter, more intense training sessions, with weight-lifting mixed in. Or just ask any triathlete who will testify to the effectiveness of cross-training, which is built into this sport. It seems that mixing tasks or disciplines provides just enough stress to stimulate important synapses that improve memory, learning, and translate into better fitness, says Mark Guadagnoli, a kinesiology professor at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. During blocked practice, by contrast, you're under less stress, but can become bored and less engaged. So bring the theory of "mixing it up" to your pursuit of choice. If you're a runner, try training for a triathlon or obstacle-type race to incorporate disciplines such as swimming, biking, and weight training and round out your fitness. Or at the very least, mix in short bursts of speed with longer periods of lower intensity training - for example by entering shorter races (5k, 10k, the ever-increasingly popular half-marathon) en route to your race of choice. A PR (personal record) awaits.

And remember, whatever you do, do it with total focus and concentration. Still the mind and lose your self in the task, be it playing music, writing, exercising, or something as seemingly mundane as making dinner or doing the laundry. The hours you spend in focused awareness add up, making you an expert at that most grand pursuit, the purpose and pinnacle of existence: Self Realization. Sitting in front of a candle and meditating is only one of many roads that lead to the Infinite.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

THE PURPOSE OF LIFE

Image result for sitting in meditation cartoon



Meditation has been written about and practiced for millennia. Reference the Upanishads and other ancient texts from all over the world, and you will see that though many forms and methods exist, all meditation styles have the same aim, which is: To still the mind, go beyond the thoughts and dwell with the consciousness that is one's essence.

It is nice to see that modern medicine is finally catching on, as prestigious institutions such as the Mayo Clinic endorse meditation for stress relief. You see, it is not enough to eat well and be active if you are constantly harried by thoughts and anxieties of your own making. And through meditation, which allows you to observe your thoughts, rather than identify with every passing and desire and fear that moves past your consciousness, you can get beyond the mind, reach that first thought, which is "I am," and which is the source of all other thoughts. We see the world from a subjective point of view, and everything we see from the viewpoint of being different or other than ourselves (our body/mind complexes). But if you go past that first thought of identification with the body and mind, in other words past your ego, you reach a state that can only be called supreme "Isness" which is your very nature, and mine, and everyone else's.



We are all akin to points of light. Imagine the stars of the firmament. Though they are of many shapes and sizes, their essential nature, as light, is the same. And so it goes for you and me and everyone else. Though our bodies may differ, and our minds, and the hopes dreams and wishes, fears anxieties and concerns, we are all at heart One, and that One is infinite and the source of all. Known as Sat chit ananda in the East: Existence, consciousness, bliss. There is a western counterpart. Joseph Campbell quotes a famous theologian who cites three distinct periods in the evolution of humanity, corresponding to each member of Christianity's Holy Trinity. The first age was of the Father, the Laws of Moses and the People of Israel. The second of the son, the New Testament and the Church. And now, finally, a third age, of the Holy Spirit, that was to be "of saints in meditation." There is no longer a divinely ordained authority that we have to recognize. Each of us is free to seek his own destiny and truth, and to quest for this and find it through our own doing. Each of us can follow the star and spirit of his own life. This is a time not to search for divinity in another (be it institution or holy person) but to find it within ourselves, and meditation can facilitate the process of introspection.

I'd like to share with you a special method I learned in my travels to the East. All you will need is a comfortable and quiet place to sit, a candle, and about thirty minutes. Light the candle and position it about a foot or so away from you in a room without a draft, so the flame is still. Sit cross-legged, back erect but comfortable. Close your eyes, and take a deep breath. Now you are ready to begin. Watch the candle flame without blinking. Do this for a count of 12. At the count of 12, blink. Do this 12 times (repetitions). That constitutes one "set." Repeat this (12 counts of 12) another 11 times, for a total of 12 sets. Only blink every 12 seconds. Doing the math you will note that this meditation will require 12x12x12 seconds to complete, or 28 minutes 48 seconds. There is a significance to the number 12 which I won't go into here in part because I don't have the manuscript from which this method was derived. The purpose of this exercise? Through focus of the vision on a flame, and the thoughts on the count of 12, still the mind so that you can spend time beyond thought, in a state of "Beingness." You will find at first that your mind is besieged by thought upon thought. Mental static. Don't grasp at these thoughts. Just watch them go by, as you would in a movie theater if the thoughts were projected on the screen.

The Light has special significance. It is said that one's soul dwells in the heart, and is exactly the same as God (like rays of sunlight being the same in essence as the Sun). "That being, of the size of a thumb, is like a flame without smoke. He is the lord of time, past and future, the same today and tomorrow. He, verily, is the immortal Self." (translated by Swami Prabhavananda;and Frederick Manchester. The Upanishads: Breath of the Eternal (p. 33). Kindle Edition. )

End your meditation with the syllable "Om" or "Aum." Hebrews and Christians alike will recognize the similarity of the syllable Aum with their Amen. According to ancient texts, OM is the imperishable Word, the utterance that began creation, and each letter is symbolic for one of the three states of consciousness: waking, dreaming, and dreamless sleep. You will note that at any given time you are in one of these three states. The "A" is for the Waker, the "U" for the dreamer, and the "M" for the sleeper. The silence that surrounds the syllable is the 4th state, which is analogous to the 4th dimension, and beyond, it is Incommunicable, the Self, Brahma, God (choose your own term).

This primal utterance - AUM - brings you closer to your true nature, which is the purpose of life as we know it - to know Thyself - and there are purported to be healing properties in the syllable. As you say the word Aum, which is said to contain all vowels and at the same time to transcend language, you will feel a vibration go through you. This vibration promotes a peace and stillness of the mind and, it is said, may help to harmonize your body at a cellular level. This sense is similar to Asian bowls that are swirled to produce vibrations, only in the case of Aum, you are the instrument. And once you get good at it, you will here the syllable Aum everywhere you turn - in the blender, lawnmower, washing machine, speeding car, a horn, a baby's cry, and you will see the Oneness underlying everything, and that darn siren which nearly pierces your eardrums every time it goes by won't leave you feeling so darn annoyed anymore! :)

So try this meditation on the light, culminating in the utterance of Aum, to still the mind and commune with the perfect Beingness which is your nature and the soul of everything in the Universe and beyond the Universe, beyond Space and Time.

Of course, there are other forms of meditation, and sitting in front of the light is a good way to begin. The goal, however, is to take the practice of meditation with you wherever you go, and to practice it at all times, in your relations with others, in crowded rooms, and not just while sitting still but through movement as well. And this - meditation in movement - may appeal to those who are sedentary by profession. After sleeping for eight hours, sitting in traffic for two, and being confined to a desk for another eight-hour workday, the last thing one might wish to do is to plop down and stare at a candle flame for another 30 minutes. And for such an individual achieving stillness in motion may be the key, through movement - up the stairs, on the bike, swimming, running, or walking - to concentrate on the breath and so achieve the stillness of the mind that is otherwise attainable through focusing on the flame.

AVOID FAD DIETS

Fad diets abound, and many dieters look for quick fixes to reach their ideal weight. This renders them vulnerable to pseudoscience and false claims. A meat-centric diet such as so-called "Paleoliths" advocate has the benefits of conducing to weight loss. Any diet which excludes half of the traditional food groups (this diet shuns grains, legumes, and dairy in favor of meat, vegetables, and nuts/seeds) will result in calorie deficiencies simply because there isn't much to eat! How much chicken breast or canned tuna can one eat in a day, let alone at a sitting! And vegetables are so low in calories that to digest them often burns more calories than they contain. But this type of diet contains hidden and not-so-hidden detriments that may not be evident until it is too late.

1. The excessive protein intake that attends a meat-heavy diet produces excessive acidity in the body (a low pH is required to digest protein, and protein is amino acids which are themselves acidic). The body therefore must buffer (neutralize) the excess acids. It does so by leaching the bones of calcium. The result is to WEAKEN THE BONES and cause osteoporosis and possible bone fractures down the road.

2. The kidneys then must excrete the acid in the form of hydrogen ions, and the calcium the body has taken from the bones. This poses an undo amount of stress on the renal system. It is analogous to the inveterate drinker who calls on the liver to detoxify the body of alcohol, in doing so placing the liver under stress and leading to alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis, liver failure. In the case of the meat eater, the overworked kidneys can incur damage and in the long run fail, setting up the need for dialysis in extreme cases. Well, you may say, we all must die of something, and for most it is one of the major organs which fail (heart, liver, brain especially - and the kidneys). If it were up to me, I would choose NOT to die of kidney failure, as it is a slow and potentially terrible way to go. But that's just me.

3. Animal foods also lack fiber, and diets which rely heavily on them fail to achieve the requisite 35 grams or more of fiber per day (I advocate 50 to 100 grams). Our gastrointestinal tract, being long and convoluted, is - unlike the carnivore's short, straight, chimney shoot set-up - dependent on high quantities of roughage to move food through and to the anus. Without fiber food festers in the tract and (in the case of animal foods) carcinogenic metabolites can find their way back into the bloodstream and set up health problems. To achieve enough fiber on a meat-centric diet would require about 35 cups of spinach ( assuming that's the preferred vegetable of the day). That's a lot of spinach! Yes, fruit is allowed on the Paleolithic diets, but sparingly, and not enough to meet the hefty fiber requirement. And yes, nuts do contain fiber, but for every 1 gram of fiber, nuts have nearly four times the amount of fat. Which brings us to our next point:

4. Fat content. On a high meat diet, it is unlikely that one's fat intake won't be quite high. Even low fat animal products  (skinless chicken breast, canned tuna, lean beef) are not without high levels of fat compared with beans (which meat-centric diets shun). Consider that lean roast beef contains 15 grams of fat per 370 calories. That many calories are found in a can of your favorite bean - kidney, legume, garbanzo. The amount of fat in beans? Zero. And unlike protein, which your body can excrete if you eat too much, excess fat gets deposited on the hips, waist, thighs, and buttocks pretty immediately. Which is why the judicious eater should enjoy fat sparingly.

5. Food contamination. We won't go into it in too much depth, but food poisoning is a real risk for those that eat out with any regularity and aren't fastidious in food handling and preparations. And most of us aren't perfect in that regard, raising the risk that some of the chicken and fish will carry unhealthful levels of pathogenic bacteria leading to intestinal damage and the inconvenient stomach cramps, flatulence, vomiting and diarrhea, and in extreme cases intestinal bleeding and death. Cases of food poisoning are on the rise, and because many cases don't have GI symptoms (you just feel fatigued, feverish, and achy) often you have gotten bit without even knowing it. Sources of food contamination are invariably animal products, since that's what bacteria cling to. Bacteria help the environment absorb waste, and dead flesh is exactly that. (Be reminded that cases of spinach or fruit contamination are from manure run-off, so even if it is vegetable matter that is infected the ultimate source is flesh and fecal matter).

Yes, the meat-centric diet has a short-term benefit of weight loss, but it helps you accomplish this at a risk of serious health problems and merely by excluding food groups that lead to weight gain (grains and dairy especially). As such it is an improvement on the standard American diet which is made up largely of flour and cheese. But why not take another and the ultimate step in the service of your health and now that you are eating a lot of fruits and vegetables substitute the meat in your diet for beans and some of those nuts for seeds. By doing so you will have extracted the full benefit from your food and eliminated potential health hazards.