Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Eating While Under the Influence

No doubt you’re heard of driving while ‘under the influence’.  Well, as dangerous as this can be, because it implies that you’re driving while physically and mentally impaired, I would like to suggest that eating while under the influence is equally as detrimental.  However, the influence I refer to here has nothing to do with alcohol or drugs, but involves mental or emotional states that often require our attention and awareness, not food.  

Bestselling author Geneen Roth says “anytime we eat when we’re not hungry or continue to eat when we’re full, the food we’re putting into our mouth has no connection to the body.”  When we eat in response to situations other than hunger, we’re actually trying to feed an emotional hunger that will not be satisfied with a full belly, but if done habitually, could negatively impact our health.  

What are some of the situations I’m talking about?  Here are a few and how they usually play out:

Eating after a long day - You’re sitting in front of the television to numb out, inserting one potato chip after another or spoonful after spoonful of ice cream into your mouth.  You barely see what’s going in or taste what’s going down and you usually stop when your favorite show is over, or the container or bag is empty.

Not only are you not paying attention to what you’re eating when you eat while mesmerized on something else, like the TV or computer, you’re more likely to eat unhealthy foods that can pack on the pounds.  How often do we make ourselves a nice tossed salad and sit down to watch a movie? In addition, a long-term study that tracked over seventeen thousand Canadians ages 18-90 found a positive correlation between regular length of sitting time and mortality due to cardiovascular disease and cancers.  Combine extended bouts of sitting with eating unhealthy foods and you can understand how the risk for disease can increase.

Eating in response to stress, boredom, or sadness - The healthiest and most effective way to deal with our emotions is to bring them up to the surface and feel them.  Yet, many of us have are uncomfortable either expressing our emotions, or spending time with them so we’ll find ways to divert them.  Eating in response to our emotions enables us to suppress them - we stuff them further down as we fill ourselves with food.  I understand this all too well because I’ve been there many times.  The obvious consequences are that we don’t heal from the emotional trauma and we add potential physical stress to the body with excess food.   As Robert Frost said, “The best way out is always through.”  When we experience our emotions head on rather than numbing or packing them away, we’ll emerge stronger and wiser.

Eating for hunger, but not paying attention - Okay, this one involves hunger and I am absolutely guilty of doing this.  Many days after my yoga class, I will eat an apple or drink a smoothie on the drive home.  Am I paying attention to the apple?  Not completely because I have to focus on driving, which means I’m missing out on the juiciness, sweetness, crispness, beauty, and smell of the apple.   Even though I may be hungry, I’m not receiving the full benefit from the food I’m eating and I may later forget that I even ate it.

If you frequently eat your meals while surfing the net or reading the newspaper, you may also lose track of what you’ve eaten and miss out on the enjoyment. What’s interesting is that when I’m home and I cut up an apple into wedges and eat it that way, I often don’t even need to eat the entire apple.   The few pieces that I do eat are enough.   To me, this says that when you’re more in tune with what you’re eating, you instinctively know when enough is enough.

If you treat eating as an event in and of itself, eat when hungry, eat slowly, and follow the cues of your body, you’re less likely to use food as something other than the pleasure and nourishment it’s meant to be.

Image courtesy of Ambro

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Pick Your Poison

It’s become apparent to me based on the talks I’ve given and clients that I’ve coached that people are fascinated with the topic of sugar.  Even if the talk isn’t focused on sugar, it’s the subject on which we invariably spend the most time.  They want to know which sweeteners are the safest and healthiest to use. Why?  Because in general, we’re addicted to sugar and the thought of life without it doesn’t seem possible. 

Not that this seems unreasonable.  Consider the fact that we have sweet receptors on our tongues in the first place.  They must be there to serve a purpose.  Yet, since the 1800’s, our consumption of sweet foods and beverages has skyrocketed from 10-20 pounds of sugar per year per person to approximately 152 pounds.   With the epidemics of obesity and diabetes we’re experiencing now, and with the understanding of what sugar can do to the body, it’s clear that we’re eating too much for our own good. 

Of course, we often turn to sugar because it is an antidote when we are stressed out or wired.  It is an expansive drug that temporarily relieves the contraction we experience as a result of our fast-paced, overly scheduled lives.  But the more we rely on it, the more we rely on it.

My answer to those who ask which sugars are the best to eat is usually, “pick your poison”, because if you regularly consume any type of sugar, it will have a negative impact on the body.  However, since the interest is still there, here’s the list with regard to healthier options I usually give to my audiences.   My bottom line, however, is to reduce overall consumption.  The less of it you eat, the less you’ll crave it.

Coconut sugar - As a granulated sugar, it’s popularity is on the rise as a low glycemic sweetener (it’s GI score is 35 and it is evidently low in fructose) that is produced from the nectar of the cut flower buds of coconuts trees.  It is a good source of minerals and B vitamins and has a more complex flavor than brown sugar. It can be used one to one in cooking and baking.

Sucanat - This sweetener is a minimally processed version of cane sugar in the form of grains rather than the crystals of processed white cane sugar.   It has a strong, brown sugar taste.  It is also rich in minerals and can be used in place of white or brown sugar in cooking and baking.

Honey - Raw honey is a natural source of anti-oxidants and has antibacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties.  It is similar to sugar in that it contains both glucose and fructose and actually has 22 calories per teaspoon versus 16 for sugar.  To reap its benefits, it should only be eaten raw; therefore, it’s not ideal for cooking or baking. 

Real Maple Syrup - This sweetener is produced by boiling down the sap of Maple trees from a slightly cloudy, almost clear liquid to an amber syrup.  If you’d like to see a demo, please watch here.   Maple syrup is a good source of manganese and zinc and researchers at The University of Rhode Island have identified 34 beneficial compounds, many of which possess anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.  

Blackstrap Molasses - The product of the third boiling down of sugar syrup to produce sugar, black strap molasses is high in minerals including manganese, copper, iron and calcium.  It has a strong, distinctive flavor and is often used in baked beans and baked goods.

Brown Rice Syrup - Sprouted barley enzymes are used to break down brown rice’s carbohydrates to produce a sweet, syrupy product that is a good source of B vitamins and minerals like potassium, magnesium, and iron.  It’s low in glucose with the remaining carbohydrates coming from maltose and soluble, slow-release complex carbohydrates.  It can be used for cooking and baking. 

Stevia - A non-calorie, non-glycemic sweetener, Stevia is actually an herb whose leaves are 300 times more sweet than sugar.  Now widely available in the U.S., it can be purchased as a white powder or liquid drops.   The purest form is found as a green powder produced from the dried, ground, green leaves.  Look for this form in natural food stores or herbal shops.

Lakanto - Produced from non-GMO erythritol and the extract of a fruit called luo han guo, this is a zero calorie sweetener that has been used in Japan for over a decade.  Unlike other non-caloric, artificial sweeteners, it has so far been shown to be safe.  It is produced in granules, has a mild taste, and can be used one to one in replace of sugar.  It can be purchased online.

Image courtesy of Maggie Smith

Linda DiBella is a nutrition and lifestyle mentor who helps clients gradually change their diet and lifestyle habits so they can lose weight, eliminate their dependency on stimulants, have more energy, and improve their moods. She works with clients in person, over the phone, or Skype. For more information, visit her website at http://www.getreal4health.com or email her at getreal4health@gmail.com.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Dairy, Dairy, Quite Contrary

Dairy - including milk, cheese, yogurt, etc., is a hot topic of debate and I’ve heard and read the very passionate views on both sides.  For those of you who have been consuming dairy on a regular basis all your life, the thought of giving it up may seem impossible, understandably.  My views and level of consumption have certainly changed over the last several years but they’ve been slow to come.  And although I’ve greatly reduced the amount of dairy in my diet, I still haven’t completely eliminated it.

We grew up having milk in glass bottles delivered to the house and left in the insulated, metal box we left outside the door.  Milk went into our cereal but interestingly, I never really cared for the taste of it, or even cheese (but loved ice cream!).   In fact, it wasn’t until I got older that I began to willingly consume milk, cottage cheese, and yogurt for the calcium and because I had finally acquired a taste for it.  It actually became a staple because I thought I was “doing the body good”.   That is not to say that I believe I’ve caused irreparable harm by consuming dairy, but what I’ve learned has prompted me to slowly reduce it to minimal amounts.

If you’re unaware of what all the debate is about, here are some the main points for you to consider:

Organic versus non-organic - Today, most non-organic milk is produced on a high scale from cows that are fed pesticide-containing grains (potentially grown from GMO seeds) and given growth hormones and antibiotics.  Organic milk, however, is required to be free of synthetic hormones, antibiotics GMOs, and pesticides.

Pasteurization - Heating the milk to kill potential pathogens also destroys the milk proteins, enzymes and beneficial bacteria that could otherwise help the gut digest the milk.  Raw milk, on the other hand, retains its full spectrum of benefits.  In fact, some people who are intolerant of pasteurized milk can comfortably consume raw milk; however, it’s not easy to come by and in the United States, it’s regulated on a state-by-state basis.

Nutritional Value - Milk from grain-fed cows is high in omega-6 fatty acids, which are typically high in today’s diet.  It is also fortified with vitamin D2 rather than D3, which the body does not assimilate as well.  Milk from grass-fed cows has a better balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Calcium and bone density - Interesting here is that despite the fact that dairy is naturally high in calcium,countries that consume high levels experience higher rates of osteoporosis than countries that consume little or no dairy.  Is this because of what they are consuming or what they are not consuming?  For example, do people who typically consume more dairy products eat less calcium-containing seeds and vegetables than those who avoid dairy?  Many also believe that the calcium from plants like green leafy vegetables is more easily absorbed than calcium from dairy. And finally, there is some question as to just how much calcium we need on a daily basis and that our levels of additional nutrients such as magnesium, phosphorous, silica, vitamin D and K are additional, important factors to consider along with exercise for healthy bones.

Cancer - there is also the belief, backed up by lots of research that dairy in the diet can feed cancer due to the presence of a number of growth factors that can promote the growth of cancer cells.  However, there are also studies to show that some fats in the same milk can inhibit certain cancers, suggesting that drinking skim or low fat milk can actually promote certain forms of the disease, like prostate cancer, more readily than full-fat dairy.

Lactose and casein intolerance - While people of Northern European decent are generally better able to tolerate dairy due to a genetic mutation (~ 75% of the population), a high percentage of black, Asian, and Native Americans cannot digest lactose.  In addition, the strain of cow from which the milk is produced can play a role in how well the milk is tolerated.

In general, most mass-produced milk comes from cows whose milk has an A1 form of beta-casein that, when digested, releases a protein fragment called BCM7, which is believed to cause most of the intestinal distress and joint pain experienced by some people who consume dairy.  If you get your milk from a local farmer, ask them if they raise A1 or A2 cows - milk from A2 animals doesn’t cause this problem.  Goat’s milk is similar to A2 milk so it may be better tolerated too.

There are also ethical and environmental issues as well with regard to how cattle are raised and the strain they place on land, water supply, and air quality that I won’t delve into here.

If you are someone who can tolerate dairy and have no intentions of eliminating it from your diet, I would like to offer some tips for consuming it in a more healthful manner:

  • Rather than get you cheese fix from the pizza delivery guy, add some feta or goat cheese to your salad or wrap.
  • If you have your daily “fruit-on-the-bottom” yogurt, mix some unsweetened Greek yogurt with a bit of honey or real maple syrup and some walnuts or almonds and fresh or frozen berries.  Make it chocolate by stirring in some unsweetened cocoa powder.
  •  If you’re adding milk to your morning oatmeal or cold cereal, opt for organic (or if you’re adventurous, try raw) whenever possible, even better if you have access to a local farm.  Or switch it up occasionally with almond or hemp milk. 
  • Serve raw cheeses with your crackers, grapes and vegetables at your holiday party

If you suspect that dairy may be the root of some of your health issues, eliminate it for at least two weeks and then slowly introduce it back into your diet and closely monitor how you feel.  Ultimately it’s your own body that should be the last authority on what you eat.

Image courtesy of Master isolated images 

Linda DiBella is a nutrition and lifestyle mentor who helps clients gradually change their diet and lifestyle habits so they can lose weight, eliminate their dependency on stimulants, have more energy, and improve their moods. She works with clients in person, over the phone, or Skype. For more information, visit her website at http://www.getreal4health.com or email her at getreal4health@gmail.com.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Inconvenience of Conveniences

Isn’t it Ironic?  With all the modern day technology and conveniences available to us today, designed to make our lives better, we’re getting heavier and sicker.  It seems what we’re saving in time we’re paying for with our health in the form of excess weight and the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even some forms of cancer.  It’s hasn’t been the best tradeoff. 

I have days where I’m sitting at my computer for many hours and I begin to feel sluggish and grouchy.  It’s not surprising since too much sitting can lead to muscle atrophy, a sore back, slow circulation and less oxygen to the brain, and a depressed immune system.  My body actually craves movement on those days and I will even work standing up.  My dad keeps saying that we should go back to the horse and buggy.  While I don’t think that will be happening anytime soon for so many reasons, in some ways, it’s exactly what we need to do.  

Not that I would want to turn back time to those days, but I do believe that slowing down as well as getting back to using our bodies more vigorously on a regular basis are two practices that would greatly enhance our overall health.  Because this is probably the most exciting time to be alive in history, imagine how much better conditions would be if everyone were healthy and vibrant.  Today, more than ever, we really do know how to make that happen.  However, it’s not about a magic bullet that will instantly fix everything.  Like anything else worth having, it takes work.  

You may be thinking, I can’t get to the gym and I don’t have time for a workout.  So how can you incorporate more movement and muscle work into a somewhat sedentary day?  Here are some ideas:   

Park further away from the building  - We often rush to find great parking spots, but think of parking further away from the office of grocery store as an opportunity to get some exercise.  In fact, I’m always thankful that I can walk the distance so I welcome the walk and make it deliberate by standing tall and moving with energy in my step.  This is a good opportunity to focus on breathing deep as well. 

Take the stairs - I was at a hotel not too long ago where several hundred of us were using the elevators at the same time throughout the day.  On top of it, they were slow, so a few times, I climbed the 21 flights of stairs to my room.  Not only did I save time, I felt great when I got to the top.  Maybe 21 flights is extreme for some people, but even one or two flights will give the legs a workout.  Here’s a tool for finding out how many calories you can burn climbing stairs based on your weight, height, and age. 

Chop and grate veggies by hand - One of my favorite things to do in the kitchen is to chop vegetables.  Maybe that sounds strange, but it’s actually fun for me.  And hand grating vegetables like beets, carrots, jicama, and zucchini for recipes is a quick but effective workout for the arms and shoulders.  Balance your workout by switching hands halfway through your veggies. 

Get up from your desk every hour - If you’re working a desk job, you’ve probably experienced fatigue and brain fog that can come from sitting all day.  At least once per hour, stand up and go for a quick walk for some water or to use the rest room.  So some simple stretching and do some shoulder rolls to reset your posture and increase the flow of blood to the brain.  If you can, work standing up for some time too.  When I do, I'll even work my lower legs by alternating between standing on my toes then leaning on my heals and lifting my toes off the ground.  This is also a good time to give your quadriceps a stretch by bending one leg at a time at the knee and grabbing your foot from behind.  

Work your muscles while watching television - If you’re in the habit of sitting in front of the TV at night, why not combine it witha workout?  Because we lose muscle mass as we get older, it’s important to incorporate resistance work into our days to maintain it.  Keeping a high percentage of muscle also allows you to burn more calories at rest and it encourages fat loss.  Pick up some hand weights and do bicep curls and shoulder presses while sitting in a stable upright position, or stand and work your legs with lunges and squats.  The added weight will increase the resistance.  Here are some tips on how to choose and use weights properly to avoid injury.  

If you’re in the habit of sitting long hours, consider any opportunity to get up and move as a chance to work your body.  Come up with you own methods for moving and working your muscles even if you can't carve out time to hit the gym.  The more you do, the better you’ll feel.  

Image courtesy of digitalart