A blog about nothing.

Friday, May 31, 2013

D UP

You've done all you can. You're eating right. Exercising. A firm believer in the power of positive thinking. You're getting enough sleep, maybe even practicing some relaxation techniques. And still you feel down in the dumps. Don't go reaching for the anti-depressant just yet. Try deep breathing. Often people hold their breath in stressful situations, the result of which can be a hypoxic state depriving the brain of oxygen and causing a build-up of carbon dioxide, which can make you feel sleepy and heavy. But if taking several deep breaths on a regular basis fails to lift your spirits, you may be vitamin D deficient.

This essential vitamin is involved in calcium absorption and plays a part in the development and maintenance of strong bones. However, it has many other non-bone-related functions which are important to your health. In fact, studies conducted by the NIH have shown that a large percentage of the population is vitamin D deficient, and that deficiency is associated with mood disorders and with cognitive dysfunction.


Now, the best source of vitamin D is the sun (your skin synthesizes the vitamin in the presence of solar radiation); however, to make enough vitamin D, you need to be getting about 20 to 30 minutes of direct sunlight several times per week, more if you are darker skinned. And hold the sunblock, which blocks out helpful rays along with the harmful ones. If you fail to get enough sunlight, you may find your vitamin D levels to be less than optimal, since food sources of this essential vitamin are scarce (fatty fish, fortified cereals and other vitamin-enriched foods about round out dietary sources).

You may consider getting your levels checked. Vitamin D deficiency is defined as a 25OHD level less than 24 ng/mL. Optimal levels are between 25 ng/mL and 80 ng/mL. If you can't get to the doc and believe your levels may be low, it is a good idea to go ahead and take a supplement. Make sure to take vitamin D3, which is also called cholecalciferol. Aim for 2,000 IUs per day. Don't worry about taking too much. Toxicity is not seen in levels up to 10,000 IUs per day, which is much much more than you'll get in your standard vitamin tablet.

Vegans should keep in mind that most supplemental D3 is derived from animal sources, most often cold-water fish (plant-based D2 is available but may not be as effective). If you are against ingesting the small amount of fish derivative found in the capsule, opt for plant-based D3 products, which are harder to find but available.

 
And take note that the health benefits of vitamin D extend far beyond the realms of bone and mood. The vitamin is a powerful immunomodulator that may be beneficial in the prevention and treatment of a variety of conditions, from autoimmune disorders to cancer. In a recent article published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition evaluating the prevalence of breast cancer in Saudi Arabian women, subjects with lower levels had the highest rates of breast cancer, supporting the cancer-protective benefit of this very important nutrient. And in another study, higher concentrations of vitamin D were associated with lower risk of death from heart disease, lung disease, and cancer. So D up!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

SOY

 
It is rather common when transitioning from the standard American diet (refined carbohydrates and high-fat animal products) to a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, to eat a substantial quantity of soy products. The reason is simple. Soy is a neutral-tasting meat analogue which assumes the flavor of the spices and foods it is combined with. And soy is everywhere! From tofu to tempeh, soy sauce to edamame, soy protein isolate, concentrate, soy milk, soy cheese, protein powder, even soy ice cream, soy is everywhere.
 
Soy does provide some benefits. It has anti-estrogen properties that may be protective against breast cancer, and it is high in protein. But most soy products are heavily-processed pseudo-foods that should not be considered healthy. Sure, use soy in your transition phase. It is savory and high in fat, and makes a useful substitution for the chicken, fish, turkey, etc. that you are leaving off your plate. There are soy burgers, dogs, deli slices...there's even tofurky for Thanksgiving.
 
But remember that more than 90 percent of soy grown in the United States is genetically engineered. Genetic modification confers increased resistance to pesticides, which increases farming efficiency and decreases cost, but the dollars you save come at the expense of your health. Consider that rats fed genetically-modified soy suffered health problems including decreased life span, lower birth rate and impaired reproductive ability. So if you consume soy products, opt for organic varieties. This ensures that they are not genetically-modified.
 
In addition, soy products also contain anti-nutrients. These compounds, which include phytates, oxalates and goitrogens, interfere with the work of protein-digesting enzymes. These enzymes are required for the proper functioning of your digestive tract. While a small amount of these substances is not necessarily harmful, the average American diet contains far too much, owing to the widespread use of soy in packaged and processed foods. In addition, goitrogens can hinder the function of your thyroid gland, and phytates inhibit the proper absorption of minerals, setting the stage for nutritional deficiencies.
 
 
 
And though tofu is naturally low in saturated fat and is free of cholesterol, it contains large quantities of omega-6 fatty acids. These fats can aggravate pain and worsen inflammation, while omega-3 fatty acids oppose these effects. Tofu contains six times as much pro-inflammatory omega-6s as omega-3s. Omega-6 fats can also worsen conditions such as heart disease, arthritis, and other inflammatory/auto-immune conditions.
 
Soy is also allergenic. Two percent of adults and 5 percent of children suffer from food allergies, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Soy is one of the eight major foods that cause 90 percent of food allergies. Symptoms of food allergies range from mild itching and stomach upset to severe cases that involve emergency room treatment and even death. The FDA requires that foods containing soy or processed on machinery used to manufacture soy be labeled accordingly.
 
With this list of health hazards, you may be wondering which if any soy products you should include in your diet. Soybeans are so widely used that soy appears in a large percentage of processed foods. These include baked goods, cereals, soups and sauces. If you are looking to monitor your consumption of soy, note that the food may appear on labels by a variety of different names. These include textured vegetable protein, hydrolized plant protein, vegetable gum and vegetable starch. It is best to steer clear of packaged, processed foods, especially those with more than a few ingredients.
 
When opting for soy, choose minimally-processed options. Tofu is a high-fat derivative of soy, which is produced from soy milk. Tofu is high in fat and low in fiber. Tempeh, on the other hand, is produced from whole soybeans which are fermented. The fermentation process renders the carbohydrates found in soy easier to digest, and also fortifies tempeh with probiotics and B vitamins.
 
 
Going closer to the source, edamame, a staple at most sushi restaurants, is simply whole soybeans in a pod. This is as minimally processed as soy can get.
 
 
Soybeans are also available in the canned beans section at your local health food store. It is easy to forget that soy products are all derived from a legume, and that the particular legume (the soybean) is lacking in nutrition compared to its cousins, legumes such as peas, lentils, and beans including kidney, black, pinto, garbanzo, etc.
 
It would therefore be most judicious, when desiring a soy fix, to opt for these healthier alternatives, which are also easier to find and much less expensive. A can of kidney beans, for example, will cost you under a dollar and contains less than 10 percent the fat found in soybeans (1 gram compared to soy's 15 grams).
 
So think (and eat) outside of the box, and remembering that soy is a legume, opt for beans over heavily processed non-nutritious soy-based foods.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

NUTS FOR COCONUTS!


Of the overt fat sources (foods which derive 50% or more of their calories from fat), we here at the Paradigm Diet endorse avocados and olives over traditional staples like nuts and oils. The reason is simple. Oils are not whole foods. They are extracted from whole foods, leaving the vitamins and minerals behind and sticking you with pure fat, which if eaten in excess sticks to problem spots like the cheeks, thighs, neck, arms, waist, hips, and buttocks. And nuts derive a large percentage of their calories from pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats which are already overemphasized in the standard American diet. Besides, nuts too often come roasted and salted and are simply too easy to overeat.

By contrast, olives and avocados are fruits eaten in their raw and minimally-processed state to provide an abundance of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in addition to fiber and vitamins and minerals. And they are delectable.

But avocados can be expensive and have a relatively short shelf life. Also, once mixed into a salad, they tend to oxidize rapidly, turning an unbecoming shade of brownish black and giving off a funky odor and taste. Spritzing some lemon on them can alleviate some of the funk, but still avocados are best eaten within an hour or two after preparation. But if you are looking for an additional fat source with a longer shelf-life and comparable nutrition, try coconut butter.

Coconut butter, in contrast to coconut oil, retains the pulp of this beloved fruit, which lowers the fat content per serving and increases the fiber content. And you will love the creamy, nutty taste. Coconut butter is reasonably priced, a 16-ounce container can be purchased for around $10; and it is available at both health food stores and traditional Ralphs/Vons type supermarkets.

In lieu of avocado, simply mix 1 or 2 tbsps. of coconut butter into your favorite green salad - kale, spinach, lettuce, etc. It's oh so delicious. Dairy eaters will find it tastes like cream cheese! Remember that coconut butter is predominantly fat - two tbsps. is equivalent to 1 small avocado - so be sparing. And much of the fat found in coconut butter is of the saturated variety, a nonessential fat which can elevate cholesterol in amounts exceeding 20 grams per day. Two tbsps. of coconut butter provides 16 grams of saturated fat, but keep in mind that a vegan diet is generally low in saturated fat,  since this type of fat is found mainly in animal foods including milk, eggs, and meat products.

Of course, all saturated fat is not created equal. A study in a recent addition of the Journal of Nutrition showed that saturated fat derived from animal sources (milk, butter, cheese, etc) is inversely associated with telomere length, making it a biomarker of aging. Telomeres are the ends of DNA strands, which get shorter as the cells divide. Cells have a finite ability to divide, meaning the shorter there telomeres, the more they have divided (likely due to cellular damage/stress), and the closer they are to death. In short, the more saturated fat you eat, the more quickly you lose leukocytes. Leukocytes are white blood cells. They are your body's immune cells. You want to keep those buggers around. And if they're dying, chances are other cells are dying in the oxidative environment created by excessive ingestion of the wrong types of fats, causing you to age rapidly.

Interestingly enough, the 1 short-to-medium chain saturated fatty acid NOT associated with aging was the 12-carbon lauric acid. Where is this fatty acid found? You guessed it: coconuts, half of whose saturated fatty acids are of this variety. Bottom line: when eating saturated fat, choose vegetable sources. That is, if you want to live long and look young.

A note on caloric content. Coconut butter has 110 calories and 10 grams of fat per tbsp., which is less than the 120 calories and 14 grams of fat found in oil (coconut, olive, etc.). To reduce fat content even further simply skim off the layer of oil that collects on top of the butter. To distinguish, note that the oil is bright white compared to the butter's yellowish hue. You'll find that you can easily skim off 5 or 6 tbsp., which reduces the amount of calories and fat found in coconut butter to 80 and 7 respectively. The oil works great as a moisturizer. Spread some on today.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

MAIN COURSE

When you think about dinner and decide on a main course, what probably comes to mind are foods like chicken, fish, ribs, if you're a meat eater, or perhaps pasta, lasagna, or rice and beans if you're a vegan or vegetarian. Or maybe you pick up a cookbook, but is this a good place to look for inspiration? Most tomes emphasize overly cooked, heavily seasoned options, as if to justify putting these recipes in a cookbook. The ideal diet requires a minimum of cooking. And of the cooking options, steaming, boiling, and sautéing in water/broth are by far the best choices, since they retain moisture and use moderate temperatures (limited as these methods are by the boiling point of water, 212 degrees Fahrenheit, which is much lower than the temps at which foods are baked and grilled).

It is also advisable to eat as many vegetables as possible in their raw form. For thousands upon thousands of years before the discovery of fire, our ancestors ate their food raw. We evolved on raw options, which are to adults what mother's milk is to a baby. Hmmmmm good! But we live in a modern age and for most going entirely raw is impractical. But if you go 2/3 raw, 1/3 cooked, you are on target. That is to say, fruit for breakfast and lunch, with perhaps some greens thrown in, and a lightly cooked dinner. Even some all raw days thrown into the mix are an excellent option. That is to say, mostly fruit throughout the day, with a big kale/spinach/lettuce salad with avocado and other vegetable fruits for dinner, yum!

When preparing dinner (and it is always healthiest to cook your own food, as you know exactly what goes in it and can dispense with hidden oils and additives that chefs tend to use abundantly) you can pick up a cookbook but it is often best to let invention and intuition be your guides. Rather than starting with a grain (pasta, rice) or a legume (lentils, beans) as your main course, choose a vegetable to serve as your centerpiece. After all, vegetables are the most nutritious foods around, so it is fitting that they occupy the primary position on the plate. After choosing your vegetable, note the appropriate cooking method for that vegetable, and build your meal around it. What we often do is, say we elect to eat zucchini. We will consider what other foods are tastiest sautéed and then include foods such as onion, mushroom, eggplant, cauliflower and/or tomatoes and peppers in the dish. If we find steaming more convenient or appealing for that night, we'll focus on foods such as potatoes, kale, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli, all of which are best steamed. Then adding fresh veggies (pepper, tomato), maybe some avocado, beans, sundried tomatoes, olives, garlic, nutritional yeast, and other garnishes, rounds off the dish, which is a culinary delight.

Make vegetables your main course!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

BRICKS

The term "bricks" is used to describe a particular type of workout widely employed by triathletes (those superb athletes who challenge themselves to swim, bike, and run, in that order, all in the same event).

A brick workout consists of stacking one discipline on top of another, just like the bricks on your neighbor's wall. Triathletes often follow a swim with a bike ride, or run after cycling, to simulate the muscle fatigue experienced on the day of their event. The name "bricks" is doubly appropriate. Not only are the brick workouts stacked like bricks, but they can also make your legs feel heavy as bricks, especially if you bike, then run. Think: B(ike)R(un)ick.

But triathletes are not the only ones who can derive benefit from this most effective training method. Bricks are also very useful for runners, especially if you are trying to increase your mileage, say in preparation for an upcoming race. It is widely held that increasing mileage by more than 10% in a given week (1.5 miles per week if you usually log 15 weekly miles) can court injury by exposing muscles to undue strain. And we agree that when increasing mileage, moderation is best.

Enter the brick. A bike workout before a run fatigues the legs without the pounding and joint stress that attend running, so you can follow your bicycle ride with a short run, say of 3 to 5 miles, and derive the benefits experienced with running perhaps twice the distance. By exposing your legs to various disciplines, you shock them into greater fitness, while at the same time avoiding the monotony that some may feel from slogging through mile upon mile, on foot, on the same ole neighborhood streets day after day. Booooring!

A good way to practice a brick is to hop on your bike and cycle to a destination, like a track, park, or hilly neighborhood. Park and lock the bike, and take a trot around. Your legs may feel heavy and blood-engorged from the cycling, or they may feel nice and warm and ready to run. Either way, trust us when we say you will love this foray into cross-training. Another alternative is to trot or bike to your local YMCA or pool and head into the water for some laps, then trot or ride home. Try to incorporate a brick workout into your routine once or twice a week, and watch your fitness and enjoyment skyrocket!

10 MILES PER DAY


The notion that we are all descended from risk-takers is the subject of this month's National Geographic. Around 60,000 B.C. modern humans began migrating out of Africa, eastward across southern Asia to Australia, then into Europe, and lastly to the Americas and the South Pacific. Thus began a voyage into the unknown, that led to sea voyages, air and space discoveries and has culminated (for now) in an exploration of the universe.

In honor of our nomadic ancestors, writer Paul Salopek has embarked on a seven-year, 22,000-mile journey to follow in the footsteps of the first great explorers as they radiated out of Africa and across the planet. It is the trail of some of the first risk takers, who along the way took bites of unknown plants and encountered unknown species of animals, learned to traverse deep water, and discovered ways to sustain their body temperature in the cold. The idea for Salopek is to walk the daily length that nomads did when they left Africa 50,000 to 70,000 years ago. Scientists have found that to be about ten miles a day.

Ten miles. Per day.

Think about how far you walk, jog, or run each day - or don't. And the next time you lace up, or the first time for some, keep in mind your roots, and aim for a distance of 10 miles. For those with a pedometer 10 miles equals about 20,000 steps. The caloric cost of this level of activity, which takes only a couple hours to complete, is 1,000 to 1,500 calories, the equivalent of what some people burn in an entire twenty-four hours of sitting and lying down!

Traversing this distance (10 miles) even every other day would put you at 35 or so miles for the week. And doing so for just a few weeks would put you on course to run a marathon, thus catapulting you into a small and select group of the population who have completed 26.2 miles on foot - and enjoy it.

Note to Salopek: If he ran those 22,000 miles instead of walked them, we bet he could cut about 3.5 years off the length of his epic journey - but as they say, it's not about the destination but the ride. However, if you find yourself crunched for time, then speed up. Remember, we were designed to run fast. Think back to when you were a kid and how you loved to sprint around the playground. The fountain of youth consists of doing what you loved to do when you were young.

Running is in your blood. Honor your heritage by taking a risk and just go for it!