Saturday, May 18, 2013

Freshen Up Your Exercise With Peppermint!

CC Flickr image courtesy of SummerTomato
Peppermint, a common flavor added to gum and other products can do a lot more for you than just freshen your breath. It is in the family of the mint herb, also known as mentha. Menthol and menthone are the main parts of peppermint oil.  

In dietary supplements, peppermint oil has been used to relieve mild digestive problems like nausea, heartburn, indigestion, and irritable bowel syndrome, to name a few. Its powerful aroma has been used to relieve anxiety, improve memory, and increase physical activity endurance. 

A recent study on twelve male university students shows how ingestion of peppermint oil might improve exercise performance. Before taking the peppermint oil, the students’ blood pressure, breathing rate, and heart rate were tested followed by a treadmill exercise test to measure their respiratory function and performance. Then they each drank a bottle of mineral water (500 ml) with .05 ml (about a drop from an eye dropper) of peppermint oil for ten days and repeated the same tests. 

The second series of tests showed a significant increase in respiratory function and the amount of calories they burned while exercising. Their lung function, distance run, and stamina significantly improved. Their heart rate and blood pressure were also lower. 

A possible theory for their improved endurance is that peppermint oil reduced lactic acid, which is a product of the breakdown of carbohydrates for energy when the body is low on oxygen.  

Besides improving exercise endurance, you can also benefit from peppermint by:

  • Drinking peppermint tea if you’re feeling nauseous or have heartburn
  • Rubbing a little peppermint oil on muscle pain
  • Taking a good whiff of peppermint oil to relax

Study source: Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2013; 10:15.

Friday, April 5, 2013

5 "Healthy Snacks" that Can Make You Gain Weight

Snacking can be a great way to give you energy and fuel in between meals, but even snacks thought of as “healthy” can be loaded with hidden calories that make you pack on the pounds.

1. Kale chips have been a big trend lately and they now come in several varieties and flavors. Kale, itself, is a very healthy, low-calorie, leafy green full of vitamins and nutrients. Unfortunately, what you find pre-packaged as a chip is often loaded with salt, oil, and some are even covered in cheese or ranch flavor. This significantly increases the calories and decreases its healthy status.

Many brands of Kale chips have 150 calories per 1 oz serving (about 2 handfuls) and with the typical two servings per container you’re up to 300 calories, as much as your average Joe potato chip! An ounce of plain kale is only 15 calories!

For a healthier and cheaper alternative, make your own low calorie chips in 3 easy steps:

1. Place Kale on baking pan lined with parchment paper.
2. Coat with a little non-stick cooking spray or olive oil.
3. Bake in the oven on 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes (or until crunchy). 

You can punch up the flavor by adding cayenne pepper, lemon pepper, or regular black pepper!

2. Our second misleading healthy snack is juice. Even juices marketed as natural or 100% fruit juice can be loaded with calories and sugar. For example, Naked Juice or Odwalla brands can go up as much as 400 calories per bottle! Even if they don't have added sugar, you would not normally eat as much fruit to equal the amount of sugar in those drinks.  

3. Granola is a good source of protein and fiber, but it is also high in calories. One cup of granola can have as much as 400 calories! For a healthier way to indulge, choose a brand without added sugars and limit the serving to 1/3 of a cup. If you have it with milk, opt for skim or 1% fat.

4. Almond butter is a good source of vitamin E and is a healthy fat, but it is still high in calories. In 2 tablespoons, there are 190 calories, same as peanut butter. If you eat a few crackers with it, you're up to over 300 calories! If you enjoy this snack, consider getting natural almond butter without added ingredients and cutting down the portion to 1 tablespoon. The same goes for other nut butters.

5. While nuts are full of healthy fats and vitamins, they're still high in calories and when you have chocolate and dried fruit pumping it up in trail mix, you're up to about 130 calories in 1 oz (about 1 handful). Most small packages have twice that amount. For a healthier trail mix, cut it with some unsalted, air popped popcorn. The volume will make you feel full and you can still enjoy the flavor. If you have no other choice, go for plain trail mix that’s mostly plain nuts and watch how much you indulge.

Remember to pay attention to your total calories for the day. Even healthy foods can cause weight gain if you don’t watch the portion size. Try to limit your snack to about 10% of your calorie needs for the day. An average adult male needs 2000 Calories a day, so a good target for each snack would be about 200 calories or less. Happy snacking!

Friday, March 30, 2012

How to Fight Fatigue

Do you ever have that feeling a couple of hours after lunch when you’re doing everything you can to keep yourself from dozing off on your keyboard? When that morning cup of coffee is not enough, you may turn to a candy bar, energy drink, or soda to get you through the day. While coffee in moderation can make you more alert, these other quick fix foods and drinks may leave you even more tired before you clock out.

If you often find yourself in this scenario or just want more energy, the solution may be with what’s on your plate. There are some foods, such as those high in B vitamins and iron that can help sustain energy throughout the day and avoid drastic highs and lows. Conversely, high sugar foods, fried foods, and foods high in saturated fat can make you feel sluggish, tired, and sleepy.
The simple or broken down sugars in candy bars, sodas, and other sugary foods/drinks are quickly absorbed in the body and shoot the blood sugar up. Your body compensates by producing a lot of insulin to get the blood sugar back down and you find yourself more tired than you were to begin with. 

Iron, especially from animal sources, helps improve oxygen uptake in your body and the presence of B vitamins are necessary in energy production. High fat foods take a long time to digest which draws more blood from other parts of the body to the stomach for digestion. Also, fat does not provide immediate energy as it is stored in the body as an alternate source of fuel. 

Lastly, if you still find yourself constantly tired, make sure you are getting enough rest each night. Adequate sleep can also contribute to weight loss. Check out You Snooze, You Lose.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Spurlock vs. Naughton, Weighing In

Many of you have probably heard of or seen the 2004 documentary Supersize Me with Morgan Spurlock’s attempt to demonstrate the negative effects of fast food on our bodies. Using himself as a test subject, for 30 days he followed a McDonalds’ only diet. As a student studying nutrition at the time and recently breaking it off with McDonalds and similar venues, I was fascinated and somewhat pleased at the idea that this corporation was getting the criticism it deserved.

Recently, I watched the antithesis to this film, Fat Head in which Tom Naughton sets out to contradict every point Supersize Me demonstrated. Naughton consumed a diet almost completely consisting of fast food for 30 days, throwing caution to the wind when it came to saturated fat but limiting his caloric intake and increasing his exercise. At the end of a very entertaining tale, he actually lost weight, improved his cholesterol, and lowered his body fat. With the help of doctors, he attempted to dispel every formally held belief about health, fast food and most importantly, the obesity epidemic.

In an attempt to prove completely opposite points, both of these movies took extreme measures and each brings up several questions and points of criticism. Perhaps Naughton’s weight loss and improved blood markers are actually a result of exercise. We don’t have an idea of what his diet was like before, so maybe this was an improvement. Even though he lowered his cholesterol and weight, does this mean he is now healthy or do we need better assessments for measuring health?

As for Spurlock, does every obese person actually eat McDonalds everyday, all day long? Are McDonalds and fast-food corporations really the faces and culprits of obesity? For the sake of your attention, I won’t go on any longer, but with the constant contradictions of health news and conflicting studies, I can understand why it may make someone unsubscribe to the traditional principles of healthy eating.

The point is, there is a lot that we don’t know, but rest assured, there is a common formula for good health that won’t go out of style. Staying within a reasonable amount of calories and exercising, eating fresh, whole foods that are not ridiculously processed and staying close to things found in nature is a solid health approach that will not be contradicted by the latest research study. If it is, we should look at those studies with a more critical eye.

The obesity epidemic is a multifaceted problem and a perfect storm of genetics, environment, psychology, nutrition and exercise and focusing on only one aspect of the problem is not going to lead to a resolution. If you haven’t seen either film, I recommend them. They are funny, entertaining, and educational but should be taken with a grain of salt (pun intended).

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Healthy Summer Grilling

So it’s that time a year when the weather is getting nice and the barbeque is calling your name. We always hear that one of the healthiest methods of cooking is grilling because it uses less fat than frying, but is it really any better for your health?

There are compounds that form when meat and fish are cooked, called heterocyclic aromatic amines (HCA or HAAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) that are related to an increase risk of cancer in humans. A study conducted in the late 70’s found more than 20 different HCAs in cooked foods. Several factors including the type of food, method of cooking and processing determines the amount of HCAs and PAHs that form.

Cooking meat, poultry, or fish at high temperatures (above 300 degrees F) or by pan-frying, grilling, or over an open flame increases the amount HCAs and PAHs. Particularly, the blackened crusty part that forms in charcoal grilling or the scraping of the pan used to make gravy form the most HCAs than other cooking methods.

Ways to reduce the amount of HCAs during cooking:

• Wrap the meat, poultry, or fish in aluminum foil to protect it from the heat
• If the meat is over an open flame, continually flip it over
• Scrape of the blackened charred portion from the meat and avoid using the drippings for gravy
• Using a microwave to cook the meat a little reduces the amount of time it needs to be exposed to heat
• Marinate the meat well so it won’t need as long to cook
• Add antioxidants during cooking that can reduce the formation of HCAs and PAHs such as garlic, rosemary, and sage and olive oil

Also remember to limit the amount of red and processed meat, including smoked meat. While strong associations have been found between meat consumption and cancer, especially colorectal cancer, further research is needed to establish exact guidelines for HCAs and PAHs and cancer risk.

For more information visit the National Cancer Institute

Friday, January 28, 2011

Got Calcium?

Recently, a friend of mine found out she is lactose intolerant and it made me start thinking about the astonishing number of people I know with this same condition. Lactase is the enzyme that breaks down the sugar lactose in dairy products and it is produced at birth when our bodies rely heavily on milk for nutrition.

This enzyme is thought to decline as we age and start relying on milk less. This decline can eventually lead to lactose intolerance in some people. Other possible causes of lactose intolerance are surgeries or illness of the small intestine that reduce this enzyme’s production. There is also a genetic component that leaves people without the ability to produce lactase.

For dairy lovers who rely on dairy as their main source of calcium, supplementation may be an alternative. But there are plenty of other foods you can eat with high levels of calcium. For the average adult, 19-50 years old, we need about 1000 mg of calcium a day.

The following foods are a good source of calcium and provide at least 10%-20% of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA).

Check out the USDA Nutrient Database for a more extensive list.

Many people even go undiagnosed with lactose intolerance for a long time. If you persistently experience any of the following symptoms 30 minutes to two hours after having dairy products, you may want to see a doctor and get tested: diarrhea, nausea, abdominal cramps, bloating, and gas.

Also, lactose intolerance has various degrees and effects people in different ways. Some people are able to handle a little bit of lactose in small doses. There are over the counter enzymes and drops that can aid in lactose digestion, but it’s not guaranteed to work on everyone.

Before swearing off dairy products all together, know that not all dairy products have the same amount of lactose and some may be better tolerated than others. You can experiment with different sources of dairy products. Hard cheeses like cheddar and Swiss don’t have a lot of lactose and may not induce symptoms. Yogurt can sometimes be tolerated because the bacteria can help produce the digestive enzyme lactase.

If you have a severe aversion to lactose, be aware of hidden sources such as cereals, instant soups, salad dressings, creamers, and even processed meats and certain medications.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Say No Weigh to New Year’s Resolutions!

If you’ve ever been to a gym the first week of January you’ve witnessed the herds of people crowding the cardio machines. Then as the weeks go by, the numbers trail off and everyone slips back into their old routine. I’m asking you to give yourself permission to let go of the New Year’s resolution to lose weight…go ahead, it's okay. Let go of that arbitrary number in your head.

Change doesn’t magically happen. It’s a process that takes time. It took years and years for us to develop the eating habits and behaviors that we currently have and one New Year’s resolution is not going to negate that.

A part of the process is falling off the healthy eating band wagon and getting back on. You cannot fail at changing your eating behavior and weight loss as long as you keep pushing forward and getting over the hurdles of yesterday. I know many of us have given up after one glitch in our exercise or eating healthy routine and immediately fell back into our old and comfortable ways.

I’m asking you to shift the focus this year to something tangible, feasible, and positive that YOU know YOU are capable of and are willing to stick to. Work on adopting healthy habits. The rest will fall in place. The arbitrary weight loss goals, the added pressure, and the lack of a game plan makes New Year’s resolutions hardly sustainable.

Tips to get started immediately

Tell your friends and family- study after study shows that support from other people and letting them know your goals and plans helps you stay focused and on track. Don’t be afraid to tell your pizza and ice cream eating buddy that you are trying to lose weight and you can’t engage in the same behavior. They’ll understand or you’ll find a different way to spend time together.

Buy a scale and tape measure- Now, I’m not a fan of obsessing over the scale, but a once a week weigh in and an every two week body measurement is a great way to track your progress.

Dumbbells- Get a couple of different pairs of dumbbells, ones that are light with some resistance, about 5lbs, and another with a little extra resistance. Keep these around the office or at home and in between commercials, or water cooler breaks, work on some exercises. There are tons of exercises online and you can check out different exercise DVDs from the library.

Out of sight, out of mind- You can’t control the greater environment around us where fast food chains dominate street corners, but you can control your home environment. Change the grocery list to include fresh and healthy foods and remove the junk so you won’t even be tempted to indulge.

Find other ways to reward yourself- Ironically, even when we lose weight, sometimes we feel it gives us license to indulge because we’ve “earned it,” but this is a dangerous road, my friend. Find other ways to reward yourself such as buying a new outfit or a new weight loss gadget like a heart rate monitor or a fitness DVD, or even a massage!

Document everything! – If you don’t have time to do this throughout the day, set aside a time in the evening, hardly 15 minutes, to document what you ate, any exercise, and your weight. Post this somewhere you’ll see every day. Even without trying to change your eating behavior, documenting everything will make you more aware of what you're eating. If you want extra insurance, have someone hold you accountable to filling out this food diary.

Portion control- The mantra and all things holy of nutritionists- portion control! It takes getting used to, but it’ll become a regular part of your behavior if you do this enough. There are even plates and bowls that you can buy that help you portion control.

Good luck and I wish you a happy and healthy New Year!!!!