Tag Archives: metabolic syndrome

With Great Freedom Comes Great Responsibility: The Safety of Sugar Free

I like to think that I eat fairly healthily, especially compared to the norm. I try to keep my carbohydrates low, eat plenty of vegetables, and always have a bottle of water handy.

There is one questionable substance I allow myself without restriction, however: sucralose. I’ve realized this lately, and am attempting to cut down, but it’s made me curious about just how dangerous fake sweeteners are.

Most Americans and Europeans regularly consume “fake” sweeteners on a regular basis, either on purpose (in baking, coffee and tea) or unintentionally (in reduced fat foods, and even some medications). They’re a welcomed loophole for those looking to lose or maintain their weight, and keep their blood sugar stable. But are they safe?

It Causes Cancer! … It Might Cause Cancer! … Male Lab Rats Are Prone to Cancer!

It seems that the best argument those who oppose sweeteners have is that aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose are all carcinogenic–they cause cancer. But do they really?

The newest study to come to light was in June of 2013, when Italian scientist Dr. Morando Soffritti fed male lab rats “varying” levels of sucralose throughout their lives. This study is still under peer review, and has caused quite a bit of controversy in the scientific community.(1) It contradicts the 2000 study which concluded that the substance posed no threat. Both studies were carried out on lab rats over a significant portion of their life span.

The scientific community, so far, is disregarding this study as “bad science,” however. Read the full story here. It seems that this Dr. Soffritti has been under review by his peers for less than perfect performance in the past, so for now, the consensus is that sucralose is safe for consumption.

splenda

This is only the most recent of many almost identical situations for artificial sweeteners. In the 1970s, the oldest sweetener, saccharin, came under fire when scientists found that lab rats fed the substance developed bladder tumors. Upon further investigation, it was discovered that the specific way rodents metabolized saccharin was causing the problem, and that humans would not suffer the same consequences. Warning labels were removed from Sweet’n’Low and Sugar Twin by 2000.

Conversely to the accusatory studies, University of Adelaide researchers released findings that shows that the gut’s reaction to sweetener is neutral. “In our most recent study involving healthy men, we found that the gut’s response to artificially sweetened drinks was neutral – it was no different to drinking a glass of water,” the researcher added. (2)

What About Natural No-Calorie or Low-Calorie Sweeteners?

When you think of “natural low calorie sweetener,” how many of you think of Stevia? Oh, looks like most of you.

Unfortunately, it looks like Stevia is actually worse for you than any chemical sweetener–though nobody is going to drop from this chemical. The compounds in this shrub, which has been consumed for centuries, break down in humans’ guts to steviol, which is slightly toxic. Dr. Berger explains this much better than I could:

Erythritol, however, seems to be the one golden angel of the bunch. This chemical has never been accused of being harmful–in fact, it’s only fault is being a sugar alcohol. No, it doesn’t get you drunk; being a sugar alcohol means that a fair amount of the population (about 40%) will get a blood sugar spike from consuming it, though smaller than if they were consuming regular sugar. Also, all sugar alcohols (xylitol, maltitol, and sorbitol are some of the more common ones) cause many consumers intestinal discomfort, so make sure you keep track of how much you eat in one serving, and per day, or you may be in for a bad time.

stevia

 

So What Am I To Nom?

Because artificial sweeteners are still under review, it’s hard to say what the future brings. However, at this time, it looks like all commercially available low or no calorie sweeteners are safe for consumption–in moderation. Keep track of how much you eat a day, and take note of any weird symptoms or discomfort. Your body will tell you what’s best!

 

What sweetener do you use?

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The Big Four

Want to lose weight? Control your acne? Improve mental clarity?

These four diets are what I believe to be the “extremes,” with most other (safe and healthy) eating plans being a combination of qualities from them. They each have unique pros and cons, which I’ve listed in each description.

For any diet, it’s important that calories are kept within a reasonable limit, and that you do what feels right for your body.

Let’s start out with the majority of readers’ “ground zero”…

Western Pattern, Meat-Sweet, or the Standard American Diet (SAD)

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This way of eating has overtaken the majority of Westerners, and is spreading through the world as each new fast food chain is opened. Most calories are taken in through red meat, sugary desserts, and refined grains, along with high fat foods. A large amount of dairy is typically added, along with highly sugared beverages and processed animal products.

The macronutrient breakdown is generally about 50% carbohydrates, 15% protein, and 35% fat–which, if eaten through different foods, could make up a healthy intake, but the concerning aspect of this way of eating lies more with the overly processed nature of the foods. (1)

Pros: Easy to maintain as it fits with cultural habits, generally inexpensive, low prep time per meal.

Cons: Difficult to maintain control over calories as the high glycemic load of this diet induces cravings and blood sugar variances in most adults. 

Now on to the good stuff…

The Paleolithic Diet

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get the recipe

This diet is based off of the idea that if it can’t be found in nature, don’t eat it if a human wouldn’t eat it before the agricultural revolution, it’s not food (thanks Mike D for correcting me!). Because of that guideline, those who follow a Paleolithic–usually shortened to just “paleo”–diet plan eat plenty of meats, vegetables, fruits, and tubers, while scorning dairy, grains and processed foods (from wheat to bologna). This diet’s macros are highly variable, and depend on what the eater prefers.

If using this diet for weight loss, or to treat diabetes, it’s a good idea to go light on the fruits and tubers, and eat mostly meats and vegetables. If this diet is adopted as a possible remedy for various maladies such as acne, frequent headaches, and hormonal imbalances(2)–many of which are theorized to be caused by various allergies, excessive sodium intake, gluten, unnatural chemicals in food, or high blood sugar–the dieter should experiment with macronutrient amount and timing to achieve their desired result.

Pros: Is reported to help treat many diseases, allergies, and, depending on your choice of food, can assist with weight loss. 

Cons: Can be moderately difficult to maintain in social settings. Because grass fed meats and dairy, and organic produce are highly recommended, this diet can be expensive to maintain. 

For more information: The Beginner’s Guide, What To Eat On The Paleo Diet, The Paleo SubReddit

Ketogenic Diet

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get the recipe

This diet, often simply referred to as “keto,” has a similar menu to the Paleo diet, but for different reasons. Originally used to treat some forms of child epilepsy, this way of eating was popularized for weight loss by Dr. Atkins. The keto diet as we know it today maintains the recommended maximum of 30 grams of carbohydrates a day–shared by both the medical diet and the Atkins diet–as well as a defined macro recommendation that the daily calorie breakdown should be 30% protein, 65% fat, and 5% or less carbohydrates (remember that fats are 9 calories per gram, whereas protein and carbohydrates are 4 calories per gram).

This diet consists almost entirely of leafy green vegetables, fatty cuts of meat, eggs, hard cheeses, and small amounts of nuts and berries. Because of the diuretic effect of this plan, users should be careful to both drink plenty of water, and ensure that they are consuming enough electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium).

Unlike many other diets, this plan must be adhered to diligently to get results–dieters will not get nearly the same benefits by partially adhering, either by only following the “rules” some days of the week, or by not cutting carbohydrates out enough. Do not be mistaken, there is benefit to lowering carbohydrates, but the dramatic results that are associated with keto–improved mental clarity, acne cessation, hunger suppression, and rapid weight loss for those with 30+ pounds of extra fat–will not take effect until the body enters ketosis, as this diet’s success relies on hormone and energy regulation, and has a chemical impact on the functioning of your body:

Ketosis is a state in which your body has run out of glycogen (sugar), and is using fat for energy, including your brain. This can take anywhere from 3-10 days to achieve, during which many experience the “keto flu,” a state in which the body is adjusting to the new energy source. The dieter will feel sluggish and dim, and possibly experience headaches and mild nausea. Once the body is adjusted, however, dieters report feeling “smarter,” more alert, free of cravings and severe hunger pangs, and even (in some, not all) needing to sleep less hours every night.

Pros: Can remedy many maladies caused by high blood sugar and gluten. Is very helpful for those suffering from diabetes, or are pre-diabetic. Regulates hunger and greatly diminishes cravings. Some evidence that the diet “starves” cancerous growths. (3)

Cons: Can be very difficult to maintain in social settings. Many, including some doctors, combat the diet openly, as there is a belief that fat and red meat will lead to cancer, high cholesterol, and heart disease–though keto dieters tend to have improved blood panels after a few months. 

For more information: The Keto Calculator, Diet 911 by Muscle & Fitness, The Keto SubReddit

Vegetarian

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get the recipe

The majority of vegetarian dieters are lacto-ovovegetarian, in that they do not eat animal products, save for eggs, dairy, and honey. (4) Fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes are all encouraged.

Those who are looking to lose weight should be mindful of their grain intake, as calories can accumulate, though it can be tempting to turn to breads and pastas out of convenience. Dieters should also be mindful of their protein intake, and ensure that they are eating plenty of beans, dairy, eggs, and nuts. The healthfulness of eating excessive amounts of soy is still under debate, though some–especially men–have reported ill effects.

This diet can be extremely nutritious if the dieter primarily eats vegetables and fruits. It’s easy to have a wide variety of tastes, as many are culturally vegetarian.

Pro: Easy to maintain in a social setting. Wide variety of foods available.

Cons: Some foods that qualify as vegetarian are low in nutritional value, so a high level of self control is necessary for maintaining or losing weight. 

For more information: Becoming Vegetarian, Vegetarian Times

Vegan

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get the recipe

Like vegetarians, vegans do not eat animal products–and also do not eat eggs, dairy, or honey, which can make it a little bit harder for them to get adequate protein. With the right planning, this diet can be just as complete as any other, though the same precautions against excessive refined carbohydrates (namely bread and pasta) should be taken as with vegetarians.

Because of the extensive restrictions on food that can be eaten, it’s highly recommended that those considering adopting this lifestyle plan out how they will eat to ensure that they get enough fat, protein, and minerals.

Veganism has been reported to have many health benefits, often in ways unique to the particular dieter, and can include allergy and asthma relief. If done right, the food a vegan consumes is much lower in calories than the same volume of non-vegan food, and can be a very effective diet for weight loss. (5)

Pros: Is reported to help alleviate hypertension, obesity, and may play a part in preventing cancer. (6If the dieter avoids processed grains, the food is generally very low in calories, and thus conducive to weight loss. 

Cons: Can be very difficult to maintain in a social setting, as many dishes include non-vegan ingredients, such as butter while cooking. 

For more information: 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Went Vegan, How to Be a Vegan and Stay Healthy

How do you like to eat? What makes you feel best? Have you tried any of these?

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Do Detox “Cleanse” Diets Work?

If you rounded up a group of people who had 10-20 pounds they were trying to lose, “do you wish you could lose it in a week? How about less than a month?” I guarantee you every one of them would answer yes.

This is the offering made by every detox cleanse diet. These “fad” “crash” diets have been made popular by celebrities, who face considerably pressure to make their body fit the director’s description of various characters. Beyonce made the “Lemonade Cleanse” famous when she lost 20 lbs in preparation for Dreamgirls. After shooting was over, however, she regained the weight rather quickly (Yahoo)–in general, we only see the dramatic losses, not the eventual regains in weight.

Are cleanse diets really worth it? Do they really “detoxify” your body? 

This is a rather broad question, so I’ll break it down into several points:

What is a detox diet?

It seems that almost every “detox” diet has a different definitely of what it truly means to “cleanse.” As a general rule, diets that claim you cannot properly cleanse your cells without their specially formulated product are probably not worth your while. Common sense dictates that if it’s something we need to do, then what we need to do it must occur naturally, not require a laboratory for manufacture.

Further, diets that claim you need a specific (naturally occurring) substance, such as apples, kale, or their great grandmother Hagatha’s tears of true joy, are also eliminated as bunk. Humans live throughout the world, and so far there have been few  deaths that resulted from a person dissolving into a “bag of puss.” (thanks for that visual, Raw Reform)

Essentially, if you’re looking for a diet that will “cleanse” your system, pick one that is either a water fast, or requires only a variety of produce to do.

As far as not for profit detox diets, their definition of the word seems to be:

  1. Resting of internal organs, especially the kidneys and liver
  2. Eliminating harmful foods from the diet
  3. Hydration
  4. Encouragement of toxin expulsion through the intestines, kidneys, lungs, and skin
  5. Improved blood circulation

The Benefits

The benefits of a diet such as a water fast, a juice fast, or eating only raw produce for a period of time are very similar (or identical, in the case of water fasting) to that of any kind of fasting.

As I mentioned in a previous article, fasting induces some physical reactions similar to those that exercise creates, as well as many others. The scholarly literature goes back into the 19th century, but in the two most sought after are usually:

  1. Rapid weight loss (though maintaining this loss requires a considerable change in lifestyle once the fast is broken)
  2. Increased insulin sensitivity (again, lifestyle must be maintained after fast to keep this benefit)

These benefits will also be seen in a “detox” diet, as they almost unanimously lower calories into the realm of a “partial fast” (under 600 kcal a day).

Detox diets also remove junk food, psychologically reactive chemicals (such as alcohol and caffeine), and most–if not all–of the more difficult to digest foods, such as fibrous produce, meat, and fat. Perhaps the most logical reason that dieters feel “clean” during and after “detoxing” is that by removing most or all of their food sources, they also eliminate possible allergens, or foods that they are sensitive to, such as wheat, soy, lactose, eggs, and peanuts (as well as many more uncommon sources of irritation).

If you’re experimenting with detoxing and feel less enflamed (not to be confused with bloated, which is caused by excessive sugar or salt, but not an usually by an allergy) than you did previously, they would be wise to experiment with removing single ingredients from their diet to expedite the process of finding what food is causing discomfort. 
 

The Risks

As with fasting, low calorie diets or diets intended to put you in a state of ketosis (cleanse diets can be both or either) have the potential to upset your electrolyte balance, which can cause cramping, irritability, and lethargy. Seniors, children, adolescents, and women who are pregnant or nursing should definitely not attempt these, and others should keep in mind that if they experience these symptoms they should address them (a sports drink and a more varied diet usually does the trick!)

Reducing your calories should be approached cautiously, especially when under 800 calories. Your blood sugar will most likely drop drastically, which, depending on your current health, could lead to extreme fatigue, dizziness, and possible faintness. If you begin this diet, start on a Friday night, for a weekend that is free of plans, especially those that require cognitive skills and driving.

Also, expect to spend a considerable amount of time in the restroom, as many “cleanse” diets are made up primarily of laxatives and diuretics.

The Myth

Overall, detox and cleanse diets can have a similar effect on your system as a prolonged fast, either traditional or modified (under 600 calories daily).

However, if you’re feeling “toxic,” there is absolutely no scientific proof that these regimens will have any effect. Your body already has a fantastic waste management system, in the form of your kidneys, liver, intestines, and cardiovascular system. 

 

Have you ever done a cleanse diet?

Do you know anyone who has completed one of these regimens?

Have you ever been tempted to try one?

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Sleep Your Way To The Top

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Sleep: every single creature does it, it takes up about a third of life, if we skip it just for one day we lose the same amount of mental function as being legally drunk, and scientists don’t know what it really does.

Earlier today, I decided that a visit to ted.com was in order. This video caught my attention:

In it, Russell Foster explains that sleep is not “an illness that needs some sort of cure,” but rather one of, if not the most important behavioral mechanism that controls us.  Though no one knows definitively why we do it, science does know that it is tied to memory consolidation and problem solving, and without it, we become stupid.

Lately, however, sleep deprivation has become somewhat of a thing to be proud of. I’m sure we’ve all witnessed (or been guilty of) bragging about only getting a few hours of sleep and then going to work or school the next day. The braggart may have gone, but were they anywhere near as productive?

The Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Depriving yourself of sleep wreaks havoc on both the mind and the body, yet it’s become a norm in Western society. But what are the effects?

Mental

Does sleeping 6 hours a night sound fairly normal to you? Perhaps the effects don’t seem that bad, you’ll catch up on the weekend…right?

Chronic Sleep Deprivation

A study by Van Dongen showed that though the effects seemed benign, restricting sleep to 6 hours or less a night over 14 days reduced cognitive ability to a level similar to skipping two days of sleep in a row. However, participants did not rate themselves as feeling impaired, which is why it can seem fairly harmless to consistently restrict snooze time.

Sleep Deprivation and Mental Illness

Sleep is also a prime time for the formation and cementing of memories. In a Q&A session following the above presentation, Foster also explains that regular trouble sleeping can be connecting to a variety of mental illnesses, including depression, schizophrenia, and PTSD. He and his colleagues have found that those who are sleep deprived have much more difficulty remembering traumatic memories than those who are fully rested, and hypothesize that excessive wakefulness may be a natural coping mechanism.

Physical

As every athlete (at any level) knows, a huge part of exercise performance is based on mental stamina and willpower. The body also needs time to repair itself after heavy exercise sessions, and to be ready for the next physical trials we throw at it.

Length of Physical Effort

It should come as no surprise that sleep loss has detrimental effects on exercise. In a study that deprived participants of sleep for 36 hours, then stuck those poor souls on treadmills, an 11% decrease in time able to exercise was witnessed, despite a doubling of prize money for completing the assigned goal. Two groups seemed to form: “resistant,” and “susceptible,” with the resistant group losing as little as 5% of their productive time, but the susceptible group losing up to 40% of theirs.

Metabolic Changes

When you are sleep deprived, your body starts releasing higher levels of ghrelin, and decreasing leptin. This surge causes you to feel hungry more often, especially for carbohydrates, as they are a quick way to “boost” energy.

At the same time, because growth hormone (GH) is released in it’s highest amount during the first portion of each sleep cycle, those who miss out have slower metabolic functioning. In addition, sleep deprivation increases the rate at which the gastrointestinal tract absorbs glucose, which can lead to increased insulin resistance if chronic. (Mullington)

How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Thinking of hitting the sack a little earlier tonight? Good! Here’s how:

  • Make your bedroom as dark as you possibly can. This helps tell your brain that it’s time to shut down.
  • If you can cool down your room, do! It will help you sleep.
  • Spend 30 minutes or so not looking at a screen.
  • Think, talk, and do happy things in the hours leading up to bedtime. It will help you sleep deeper, and will lower the chance of you waking up in the middle of the night.
  • Don’t drink caffeine after lunch time, no matter how tolerant you think you are!
  • Above all, give yourself enough time before waking. There’s no definitive time that adults need to sleep, but we do know that 7-9 fits most of the population. If you need an alarm clock to wake up, you need to go to bed earlier!

Parting Thoughts

There are many more effects that chronic sleep deprivation can have, including some very scary statistic on cardiovascular health. My goal for this article was to point out the effects that are more immediate, and therefore, more inconvenient for us in the short term.

Hopefully I’ve helped motivate some people to put their phone down and get that extra hour or two of sleep!

Comments?

How many hours do you sleep when you don’t have an alarm set?

Do you often deprive yourself of sleep? Why? How do you feel it affects you?

 

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Does Breakfast Really Matter?

Referencing:
High Caloric Intake at Breakfast vs. Dinner Differentially Influences Weight Loss of Overweight and Obese Women
Daniela Jakubowicz, Maayan Barnea, Julio Wainstein, Oren Froy

Who is this study about?

This study is one of the few that objectively measures the effect of caloric timing for females with metabolic syndrome.

A person who is suffering from at least three of these five symptoms can be said to have metabolic syndrome:

  • Large Waist Size (for men: 40+ in., for women: 35+ in.)
  • High Triglycerides (150 mg/dL unmedicated)
  • Low HDL, or “good” cholesterol (for men: 40 mg/dL or less, for women: 50 mg/dL or less, unmedicated)
  • High Blood Pressure (135/85 mm Hg or higher, unmedicated)
  • High Fasting Glucose Level (100+ mg/dL)

The syndrome isn’t uncommon–as of 2010 over 34% of adult Americans have it.

This study’s aim was to show if there was any notable relationship between blood sugar and circadian rhythm, also known as your “brain clock”, which would affect weight loss.

What type of people were excluded from the study?

This study did not include participants who

  • Had diabetes, or any abnormal internal organ function.
  • Were pregnant or lactating.
  • Were taking any type of medication that affects glucose, insulin, reproductive hormones.
  • Were previously dieting

That doesn’t mean that the study cannot be applied to those types of individuals, but it should be kept in mind that, as with any dietary change, results may vary.

What did participants do?

93 Women (20-65 years old) with a BMI over 32.4 with metabolic syndrome were fed 1400 calories every day for 12 weeks. The group was split into two smaller groups:

  • BF – This group received most of their calories at breakfast (700 calories), less at lunch (500 calories), and not much more than a snack at dinner (200 calories).
  • DF – This group received a snack at breakfast (200 calories), a small meal at lunch (500 calories), and most of their calories at dinner (700 calories).

The women reported their meal intake from home with instructions to make note of everything they ate.

They were instructed to follow this meal plan, with some substitutions of similar nutritional value allowed:

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Their hunger, or appetite scores, were assessed before and 30 minutes, one hour, two hours, and three hours after each meal by marking somewhere between 0 and 100 on a vertical scale.

A dietitian met with each woman twice a week.

Weight, blood pressure, and waist circumference were recorded every 2 weeks by the same person.

Shortcomings of the study

The women reported their meals from home. This is a pretty big problem to me, as it’s not uncommon for people to believe that “just a bite” isn’t worth recording. Also, participants were asked to adhere to a specific macro breakdown (fat, protein, carbohydrates), which is another challenge to record.

Participants were only withdrawn from the study if they exceeded their calorie goal (1540 calories or more) over 42% of the time, or over 3 days a week on average.

Activity levels were not recorded–participants were simply asked to stay at the same activity level they had been at beforehand, which was sedentary. They were only asked to note any change in activity level ever 2 weeks. I’m not sure if I agree with this, as “sedentary” can mean many things. Often times when calories are reduced, you move even less than normal–not fidgeting, needing more motivation to get up to grab a cup of coffee, etc. I would have been happier with this study if participants at least wore a pedometer.

Results

Finally, what you’ve been waiting for!

The women who ate their biggest meal first (BF) ended the study with a 10% drop in body weight. The women who ate their biggest meal at dinner had a 5% drop.

The BF group also had a more significant drop in waist size, as well as their fasting glucose and insulin.

Conclusion

This study does suggest that breakfast is, in fact, the most important meal of the day, for those who eat the Standard American Diet, which is low fat, high carbohydrate, moderate protein.

What I’d love to see is another study that follows the same principle of eating calories early in the day, but with a ketosis-inducing macro nutrient breakdown.

After reading this study in its entirety, I’m not convinced that it’s the calories that affect weight loss as much as it is the timing of carbohydrate intake, or blood sugar spiking foods.

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