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Showing posts from June, 2013

THE WHITES

Everyone knows how important it is to eat your vegetables, and when you think of veggies what generally comes to mind? Spinach, broccoli, peas and carrots.

While it is true that green vegetables are the most nutritious foods, when piling the veggies on your plate it is advisable to choose a wide variety of colors. Foods like red peppers, squashes, eggplant, and their brightly-colored friends each boast different nutrient profiles based on the pigment of their skin.

But what about white vegetables? Sadly, they don't get the press (or intake) they deserve.



U.S. dietary guidance tells us to consume a variety of fruits and vegetables, including dark green, orange, red, and starchy vegetables. However, no such recommendation exists for the whites, a group that includes potatoes, cauliflowers, turnips, onions, parsnips, mushrooms, corn, and kohlrabi.

There is a substantial body of evidence demonstrating how adding one or more of these vegetables can increase …

THE 30-SERVING PLAN

Efforts have been made to standardize the American diet and steer it away from fast foods, high fat animal products, and refined carbohydrate. Thus the USDA recommendations. The current My Plate features 6 food groups. They are fruits, vegetables, protein foods, grains, dairy, and oils (optional).
If in order to meet the definition for food an edible must provide nourishment that outweighs the potential detriments associated with it, then half of these groups don't count. There are risks associated with eating grains (weight gain, inflammation, sensitivities) and dairy (osteoporosis, kidney stones, cancer), while oils provide empty calories you can easily wind up wearing around your waist.

The focus instead should be on fruits, vegetables, and so-called protein foods, which include beans and peas as well as a moderate amount of seeds. The USDA recommends 11 servings of these foods, but diets that avoid dairy, meat, nuts, grains, and oils can easily double the recommended intake…

FRUIT IS YOUR FRIEND

 Fruit is nature's prize. It is sweet, delicious, juicy, convenient and, exotic fruits and berries aside, generally affordable.

Think of it in the grand picture. What is the purpose of fruit, that love child of the tree? Just as peacocks and other animals (including humans) try to increase fitness by appearing as physically appealing as possible, trees also have an interest in perpetuation of their species, and to this end they create the most colorful, juiciest, sweetest bulbs of pleasure they can, encasing in them their seeds, in the hopes that animals (not just squirrels but us too) will be enticed by them, eat them, maybe transport them, possibly discard them in fertile ground, and in months years or decades, a new tree will spring. And the new tree, with its green leaves, converts carbon dioxide to oxygen for us to breathe. And so the cycle of life perpetuates itself.

It's sometimes difficult to remember this if you don't garden or have a tree or at times pick you…

THE PERFECT LUNCH

It's always better to prepare your own food, that way you know exactly what goes into it. And if you come prepared for lunch you will be less tempted by the vending machines, free lunches, and fast food joints that lurk everywhere. (The majority of junk food purchases are impulse buys.)

An easy lunch is to combine your favorite bean with your favorite green, and add a little fat for flavor. There's no cooking required, and preparation time is under 10 minutes. Here's how to do it:

Take 10 oz. of a leafy green vegetable, for example kale. This is approximately 2 bunches, or 4 cups chopped. Get the curly kind, which tastes great raw.

Rinse and empty into a bowl, then mash it down with your hands really good. You gotta sorta tear it, and knead it, as you would dough, so that the leaves are crushed a bit. This breaks down the cell walls and aids digestion.

Next, add an avocado or 2 tbsp. of coconut butter and continue to mash.

Mix in some seasonings (salt, spices, soy sauce, …

PROTEIN REQUIREMENTS

The current recommendation for protein is to consume .8g/kg of body weight per day. A 150-lb individual adhering to this advice would consume 56 grams of protein per day. As each gram of protein has 4 calories, this equates to roughly 225 calories, or about 11% of calories on a 2,000-calorie per day diet.

Advocates of higher protein intakes argue that this recommendation does not apply to everyone, since the data on which it was based derived from studies involving sedentary individuals, and active folks would seem to need more protein. If athletes (and if you exercise regularly, this means you) do require more protein, reflected as grams per day, how much more depends on the type of exercise you engage in.

Authorities suggest that endurance athletes require additional protein as an auxiliary fuel source, while those who engage in strength training require extra amino acids to serve as building blocks for muscle synthesis. Although both groups (marathoners and muscleheads alike) woul…

BEAT THE HEAT

June gloom seems behind us and with the longest day of the year fast approaching, it's getting warmer out. No need to curtail your fitness regimen. To beat the heat, simply exercise earlier in the day if possible, and remember to consume adequate fluids.

The American College of Sports Medicine has issued the following position stand regarding fluid replacement:

1. Drink 500 ml (16 oz) of fluid 2 hours before exercise.

2. Drink early and often, especially during exercise sessions lasting longer than 1 hour.

3. Cool fluids are more readily absorbed than room temperature drinks.

4. For exercise sessions lasting less than one hour, plain water is fine. But for longer sessions/races, try and consume between 30 to 60 grams (120 to 240 calories) of carbohydrate with some added sodium for each hour of exertion.

5. Aim to consume between 1/2 and 1 liter of fluid per hour. By choosing sports drinks you can ensure that each liter consumed provides adequate carbs and sodium to fuel your perf…

SAY NO TO DRUGS

I remember the day as if it were yesterday. I was living in Colorado, where I was an intern in family medicine. I had just worked a 30-hour shift, beginning at 6 the previous morning and going till noon the following day. Starved and sleep-deprived, I decided to stay at clinic an extra hour and sit in on the lunch lecture. I wanted free food and intended to doze.

The talk was given by a pharmaceutical rep. He was discussing the benefits of a new antihypertensive drug. These drugs lower the blood pressure and reduce the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. I already knew about several classes of such medications. Beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBS), calcium channel blockers, and going back to medical school had for each class memorized the the mechanisms of action, side effect profiles, pharmachokinetics and dynamics of several medications, some 20 or more in all. My brain was near bursting with this information and ways of conveying it to patient…

INDULGE YOUR SWEET TOOTH

Face it. We all have a sweet tooth. Whether you admit it or not, you have a "weakness" for sweets of one type of another.
The taste bud for sweet is on the tip of the tongue for a reason, suggesting this weakness is actually a strength in that it is in the interest of fitness. That is, if the sweets you choose are of the right variety. Indulging in skittles, snickers, m&ms and menthos and other empty calories is a recipe for weight gain and a host of health disorders, but by choosing fresh fruits and the water, fiber, and micronutrients they provide along with the sugar for rapid energy, you can ensure that your sweet tooth is in the best interest of your health, just as nature intended.

And when you think of healthy fruits, berries, apples, oranges, and melons may come to mind. But one fruit not commonly noted for its high health index is the date.

Phoenix dactylifera Linn, that is. That date palm is one of the oldest trees cultivated by man, with references dating ba…

THE TRUTH ABOUT FATS

The place that fats should occupy in the diet is a matter of contention. Low fat diets such as the one advocated by Dean Ornish, M.D. suggest a fat intake of 10% of calories, while other medical experts such as Joseph Mercola consume as much as 50% or more of their calories from fat. Who's right?

Let's examine the science and develop our own conclusion.

Fat as one of the three macronutrients (protein and carbohydrates are the other two) comprises various proportions in food depending on the food. Oils, for example, are 100% fat, as is butter. Nuts and high fat animal products derive the majority of their calories from fat. Fruits, vegetables, and legumes have modest to minimal fat content.

The body uses fat for energy. Fatty acids are long chains of carbon molecules which are broken down/oxidized to provide fuel. This oxidation creates harmful metabolites (oxidants) which your body must neutralize with the appropriately named antioxidants, particularly the vitamins A, C, and E…

THE REAL KILLER

We are currently experiencing an epidemic in inflammation and inflammatory conditions. The list includes diabetes, heart disease, cancer, autoimmunity (rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis) and many other disorders.

Experts have implicated the disproportionate consumption of inflammatory precursors. These fatty acids, which are called, variously, omega-6 fatty acids, linoleic acid, and arachidonic acid, our body uses to produce compounds such as prostaglandins and leukotrienes whose effects include pain, disease, and aging. This is an oversimplification of a complex scientific topic, but it is nonetheless true.

Efforts should be made to decrease consumption of inflammatory fatty acids in favor of plant-based compounds with anti-inflammatory effects. These fatty acids, called omega-3 fatty acids, occur in foods such as leafy green vegetables, flax seeds, and chia seeds.

As you can see, the list of dietary omega-3 sources is very short.

On the other hand, foods which are high in infl…

FOOD AS FUEL

Diet and exercise, diet and exercise, diet and exercise. Like love and marriage, the two seem to go together like a horse and carriage. And for good reason: what you eat and how much you move exert a synergistic effect to favorably impact your health.

But what is the influence of one on the other. In other words, does diet impact your fitness level and exercise performance? We know that exercise increases your caloric expenditure and can cause you to consume more food, which is fine provided it is of the nutrient-rich variety. If too often you reward yourself after a 3-mile jog with a large muffin of the coffee-shop variety, you can wind up adding to your fat stores rather than trimming down, since muffins, bagels, and other calorie bombs can easily contain twice the calories you're trying to replenish (muffin: 600 calories; 3-mile jog: 300). The resultant net gain you wind up wearing around your waist, hips, face, or thighs.

But joking aside, does a healthy diet, in and of itsel…

FATTY ACID RATIO

A plant-based diet is critical in maintaining the proper nutrient balance. Human beings evolved on a diet with a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFA) of approximately 1. In Western diets the ratio is closer to 20-1. Excessive omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids and such a high omega-6/omega-3 ratio promote diseases including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. Increased levels of omega-3 and a low omega-6/omega-3 ratio exert suppressive effects, protecting against heart disease, certain forms of cancer, and providing relief in conditions including asthma and autoimmune disorders.

Because meat, soy, grains, nuts, and oils contain an abundance of omega-6 fatty acids, a diet which emphasizes these foods is not in the best interest of health. A diet which emphasizes fruits, vegetables (especially leafy green varieties, which are rich in omega-3), beans and some seeds is best.

Choose flaxseeds and chia seeds over nuts. The former are…

FOOD AND MOOD

The prevalence of mental disorders is so high that it can accurately be called an epidemic. The National Institutes of Health estimates that over 25 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. This translates into nearly 60 million people, probably more, as this estimate is ten years old.

Nearly half of the diagnosed mental disorders in a given year are classified as mood disorders. Things like depression, bipolar, and dysthymia. Symptoms of depression include low self-esteem, loss of interest in formerly pleasurable activities, fatigue, changes in appetite, and sleep disturbances.

For many years, the belief has been that a deficit in certain brain chemicals called neurotransmitters underlies depression, and so treatment has been aimed at restoring levels of serotonin and norepinephrine to normal with drugs like Prozac, Zoloft, and Wellbutrin. But these powerful drugs have side effects which can be w…

BE A BEANER

This past weekend I was at Big Bear's Holcomb Valley Trail run finishing a 33-miler at 7,000+ feet above sea level. My ten-minute mile pace was the slowest I'd ever run in my life and yet sufficed for an age-group 3rd place... hardest physical thing I've ever done, yada yada.

Anyway, I get to talking with the guy who finished some 30 minutes before me. He tells me that two weeks before the race he had run (and won) a 10-mile trail race. Then, the following week he had run a 2:31 marathon, narrowly beating a guy half his age for the victory. And after coming in 3rd in our Holcomb Valley 33-miler, he was ANGRY HE DIDN'T WIN! Did I mention this guy was older than me?

I thought, is this guy human??? And so I asked him. "What do you do to run so fast and so often?" says I. I was expecting him to tell me he trained in the rarified air of Mars, or that he had tiger blood in his veins. Know what he says?

"I eat beans."

Okay, maybe he didn't say this.…

A CALORIE IS NOT JUST A CALORIE

Much debate exists as to which calorie type should predominate in the diet. Some advocate a high protein approach, while others follow carbohydrate rich fare. Though your body requires all three macronutrient types - protein, fat, and carbohydrate - their respective effects on the body differ markedly.

Of the three macronutrients, carbohydrates are deemed the most nutritious, since the foods in which carbohydrates predominate - fruits, vegetables, beans - are highest in vitamin and mineral content, while foods comprised mainly of fats and/or proteins (animal products, nuts, oils) are less nutritionally dense.

Nutrition aside, the million dollar question is, What effect do the various calorie types have on body weight?

A study published in the Journal of Nutrition helps us answer this question. Researchers conducted a population-based, cross-sectional study of approximately 4500 middle-aged and elderly men and women to investigate the effects different macronutrient intakes have on per…

INFLAMMATION

It is always best to obtain your nutrients from fresh, whole foods. But owing to differences in soil and climate, and variations in vitamin levels found in food, it can be hard if not impossible to determine with certainty that you are getting adequate amounts of all nutrients.

Traditional advice is to take a multi-vitamin to top off nutritional requirements and ensure adequate daily intake of all major vitamins and minerals. And most supplements do contain 50% or more of the USRDA of the major micronutrients (iron, B vitamins, etc).

But what is left out? These days vitamin pills contain a host of pseudonutrients such as extracts and powders from herbs whose usefulness in the diet has not been adequately determined. But what most vitamins do not contain is arguably one of the most important nutrients in food.

Enter Omega-3 fatty acids.

There are three types of Omega-3 fatty acids. For simplicity let's use the abbreviations here. ALA is found in plant sources including leafy gree…

THE C WORD

Diet is a four-letter word, which is apropos, since the food you eat can carry health consequences that are profane.

Take high-protein diets. Promoters of such a dietstyle tout the weight loss and strength building effects of eating like our ancestors did for millennia. Weight loss. Muscle mass. Strength gains. These are all short term results. What about long term consequences of favoring animal products? These cavemen ancestors of ours had life expectancies which barely reached the thirties. (This held true in later eras, even through the early part of the 20th century.) It's not to say that eating meat led to an early death; skeletal remains suggest that our ancestors died as a result of trauma, infection, or other such causes, and recent increases in life expectancy are largely due to advances in public health (cleaner water, vaccines, etc).

Nevertheless, most cavemen did not live very long, so it becomes difficult to assess the impact of a meatcentric diet in an older popu…

VIVE LE FIBRE!

The most important nutrient in your diet is not usually considered a nutrient at all. Ask your friends to name one and they will likely mention a vitamin or a mineral, or maybe say protein. And they'd be correct. But if you asked said friends to name the most important nutrient, or the one whose presence and quantity in the diet goes far in indicating the quality of the diet, who in their right minds would say fiber?

Yes, fiber.

The nutrient that is not a nutrient, probably because it is calorie free and traditionally thought to be useless as an energy source. But it just so happens that the foods with the highest amounts of fiber (we're talking whole foods here, not processed junk in boxes and jars like cereals and powders) are without exception the healthiest on the planet.

First, what is fiber? Textbooks will tell you that fiber is the indigestible portion of plants. Because the body cannot absorb fiber, it remains in the digestive tract, moving through the 30-foot-long …