Tag Archives: study

Smaug Really Just Needed Vitamin D

So there’s a state of emergency over most of the east coast because of the storm we’re experiencing. It’s not a fun time to be living in Boston, unless you happen to work right next to a cappuccino/latte/hot chocolate machine–which I do. Becca: 1, Snow Storm: 0. Shout-out to C3 for being an awesome place to work!

IMG_20140102_180925

However, no matter the quantity of hot beverages you may be imbibing this time of the year, storms do have one unavoidable affect–they can cause vitamin D deficiency. Lacking this nutrient is one of the causes of–aptly named–SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (1). You may also be more susceptible to a host of other diseases, including diabetes, psoriasis, gum disease, and even cancer (2).

On top of that, British researchers are on a mission to prove that fictional villains really just need more sunshine and fish. 

In the recently published report, “The Hobbit–An Unexpected Deficiency,” Joseph and Nicholas Hopkinson, of the National Institute for Health Research, Biomedical Research Unit, at Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust and Imperial College London, analyzed the sunlight exposure and diet of the characters of The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien, and compared their findings to the characters’ evilness and success in battles. Their conclusion was that the lack of dietary and environmental vitamin D intake caused the troubles of characters such as Bilbo, Gollum, and the Goblin empire. The Hopkinsons also theorize that the Wood Elves are less potent than the High Elves because they dwell in caves, rather than in a sun lit city.

The depression, moodiness, and lack of cognitive skills shown by those who dwell in the dark could well be attributed to the lack of vitamin D in their diet. If Smaug would only scoop up some fish, and lay off the virgin maidens, Laketown would get some peace.

So are you feeling a bit like a cranky dragon lately? Here’s the top 5 ways to eat your vitamin D:

Mushrooms

mushrooms

Oily fish like salmon, trout, and orange roughy

salmon

Egg Yolk

egg

 

 

 

Swiss Cheese

swiss

Liver

liver

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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 Ultimate Guide to Cooking Oils

Cooking oil is a ubiquitous pantry item, no matter what your diet–high-fat, low-fat, vegan, and paleo eaters all need it. This isn’t a bad thing, as fat is vital to the proper functioning of the body. However, unlike in the days of your grandmother, when there was butter, olive oil, canola oil, and maybe one other fancy shmancy oil for special dressings, the modern grocery shopper has their choice of a dizzying array of liquid lipids.

First, a Handy Dandy Chart

I’m giving full credit to theconsciouslife.com for this chart. It’s fantastic and I immediately recognized that I could not do better at this time.

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 7.42.11 PM Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 7.41.59 PM chart of cooking oilsLegend:
SFA: Saturated fatty acids
MUFA: Monounsaturated fatty acids
PUFA: Polyunsaturated fatty acids
Ω-3: Omega-3 fatty acids
Ω-6: Omega-6 fatty acids
Ω-9: Omega-9 fatty acids
Ω-6:3 Ratio: Omega-6 to omega-3 ratio
Smoke Point: The temperature at which a cooking oil starts to burn and produce chemicals that are potentially harmful.

 

What Does It All Mean?

The Omegas

Science tells us that no matter what your budget, or how delicious butter is, it’s really important to balance your omega-3 and omega-6s. What are these silly things? They’re essential polyunsaturated fatty acids, and are crucial for proper brain and body function.

Though omega-6 is necessary for a brain function, hair and skin growth, bone health, regulation of the metabolism, and maintenance of the reproductive system, too much can cause inflammation. Most Westernized eaters consume far too much, which leaving out it’s counterpart, omega-3 (which cuts down on inflammation). This lack of balance has been been blamed for a host of common 1st world diseases, from dementia to Complete Regional Pain Syndrome.

Omega 9, the fairly new kid on the health awareness block, is equally important for hearth health and blood sugar control. This omega is also likely to increase your metabolism with consumption, and improve your moods. It’s most likely found hanging out in canola oil, nuts, and avocados.

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 8.03.01 PMfrom goodfats101.com

The bottom line: you’re probably getting enough omega-6, so it’s a good idea to focus on getting more omega-3 and omega-9. 

Smoking Point

When an oil starts to smoke, it means that it’s breaking down. What that means for you, as a chef, is that if it gets any hotter, your food is not going to taste very good, and you’ll some of the health benefits from your dish. Lastly, the blueish smoke you see rising from your dish is made up of acrolein, which can really do a number on your eyes and throat. If your pan starts smoking, turn off the fire, turn on a fan or open a window, and give it some space to cool down.

In general, for high heat operations, such as sauteeing, deep frying, or grilling, you’ll want to use vegetable oils. The main exception to this rule is hydrogenated vegetable shortening. The only animal fat that is suitable for this kind of operation is ghee, or clarified butter.

Lower smoke point oils, such as coconut and oil, are great for everything from coatings to salad dressings. Their more pronounced flavors will lend that special flare to your dish, without you having to worry about losing them to the heat of cooking.

Flaming_wok_by_KellyB_in_Bountiful,_Utah

What oil is your favorite to use? Do you have any unique oils in your pantry?

 

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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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Controlling Emotional Eating

I’ve only met a few people who are unfamiliar with emotionally eating, and I’m not sure I believe them. For this particular discussion I’m going to focus on emotional eating triggered by stress, instead of boredom.

Before we even begin, let me just make sure the record is straight: I pride myself on my control of my emotional eating, but there is still a gluttonous beast within me that every so often, slips its chain.

icecream

Objectively Speaking:

To qualify it as a subject worthy of study, the parameters set (via WebMD) are:

  1. Sudden onset
  2. Feeling like the hunger must be satisfied immediately; excessive urgency
  3. Continuing eating while full, possibly to the point of discomfort
  4. Feeling guilt during and/or after consuming the meal.

Generally, this kind of hunger is brought on by stress–be it sadness, anger, guilt, or fear. It’s one of the oldest evolutionary responses: “I need fuel, there’s going to be a fight or a flight.” 

The First Step: Recognition

Just like any problem, the first step is recognizing that there is a problem. For me, this is generally mid spoonful just after I’ve reached the point where yes, those calories definitely count, there is no way I can rationalize that away as “just a taste.”

I like to think that educating yourself on brain chemistry will help you combat your cravings and urges when next you catch yourself in the act–generally, this is my approach when I’m gorging because of frivolous reasons. Knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing really does help you control it. 

Why Do We Do This To Ourselves?!

What science can tell us:

  1. Ghrelin, the hormone that makes us feel hungry, is released just as reliably when we’re stressed as when we have gone for several hours without food. Ghrelin also has some interaction with the hormones that control depression and anxiety, and can act as a natural antidepressent (though this sounds like a jump off into a conversation about anorexia, I’d rather not go there, at least not today). Source
  2. Those who lack fish oil in their diet are more likely to have low moods, which may cause stress eating. This is because they run low on docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA. This can be mitigated by taking fish oil pills, if you either don’t like fish or don’t like its effect on your wallet.
  3. Often times we crave food that was given to us as a reward in the past, especially during childhood. This alone is a fantastic argument against giving food “prizes” to kids for good behavior. Source
  4. Foods that are high in fat and/or sugar often stimulate various hormones in our brains that cause us to feel happy and/or relaxed.

Why Am I Craving Sugar?

Craving sugar can happen for one of two reasons, and it’s usually a combination of both:

  • You were given sugar as a child to make you feel better, and associate it with comfort, love, and safety.
  • Your body wants a blood sugar spike.

Craving sugar because of your past is something that must be overcome psychologically, and unfortunately that’s as much as science can tell us at this point. However, it’s somewhat rare for that to be the only reason I really want that mocha instead of black coffee when I’m having a rough day.

The blanket reason seems to be adrenal fatigue. If you haven’t had enough sleep–be that because of too full a schedule, or laying awake worrying about things–or are spending too much time feeling “rushed” or pressured, often times your body will turn to an outside source of energy to keep you awake. Blood sugar spikes do this quite well, especially since our body conveniently forgets that we will, inevitably, have a blood sugar crash, which will only make it all worse.

Next time you’re craving something very sugary (not fatty, so think something along the lines of hard candy), stop and evaluate how tired you are, physically and emotionally. If “exhausted” is an adjective you’d assign to yourself, perhaps try finding a quiet corner and relaxing/take a nap (guide to timing your nap) before you dig in, and see if you don’t feel better.

Why Am I Craving Fat?

This answer is rooted more in evolution, but isn’t entirely unlike our desire for sugar or carbohydrates.

Think about how a human’s day went before the agricultural revolution: We use up a lot of calories for our size because of our brain, so, in order to supply those calories, humans evolved to eat mostly dead animals. In order to survive, they hunted. If the hunt was unsuccessful, they went hungry. If they went hungry for too long, they died.

For this reason, we developed a preference for fatty animals, and our bodies have adapted to process both animal fats and proteins exceptionally. Our bodies can be fueled entirely on these two food sources (given that the animals had a natural diet and thus have nutrient rich flesh, which unfortunately is usually not the case today).

When a hunt was successful, those who helped were most likely physically spent, and eating the best parts, especially on the outside of the animal, was their reward. This is the theory behind why we crave it during stressful times: eating fat signals to our brain that we will not starve.

This video explains it well, though I do not completely condone taking chunks out of a stick of butter (I can’t really argue why it’s bad, it’s just … icky. If that’s your thing though…). Warning: this is an advertisement, but it is factually correct: Eat More Butter from Tiny Falcon on Vimeo.

Ending Thoughts

I hope that this post explained a little bit about how brains work in the face of delicious treats, and maybe I helped someone out there.

As always, for any craving, I’m a big advocate of drinking a 16+ oz glass of cold water first. I also think distraction works amazingly well. If you have a computer in front of you, pick your poison; at a party, my favorite thing to do is try to remember every word to a song, or start a conversation with someone about a very engaging topic. Being alone is always the hardest, but is also usually the only time you can nap if you feel that’s why you’re feeling peckish.

How do you combat your cravings? 

What do you crave when you’re stressed? 

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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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