Filed under: Chronic Disease, Healthy Lifestyle | Tags: food safety, microwave ovens
Microwave ovens have been in widespread use since the 1980s, and today almost every American home has one. Many of us happily use it daily, whether to warm up leftovers or boil a cup of water, without a second thought. But there are some health-conscious people out there who believe that microwave ovens are a health hazard, and/or that they destroy the nutrients in our food. Should we be concerned?
The short answer is no—with one caveat. According to Harvard Medical School, microwaves cook or heat food using waves of energy that are similar to radio waves. These waves primarily affect water molecules in the food, by causing them to vibrate and quickly build up heat as a result. There is no evidence that these types of waves harm our bodies in any way.
And microwaving our food is actually one of the best ways to preserve nutrients. When it comes to nutrient preservation, the faster the cooking method the better, and as we all know, the microwave tends to win the speed contest.
One thing we do need to be vigilant about is microwaving food in plastic. When many types of plastic are heated, either bisphenol-A (BPA) or phthalates can leach out of the plastic into the food—not a good situation. Both substances can mimic human hormones and are considered endocrine disruptors, which may produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in humans.
So as long as you’re careful about what containers you use to heat up your foods, you’re good to go!
Filed under: Chronic Disease, Dairy, Eggs, Healthy Lifestyle | Tags: vegan, vegetarian, Vitamin B12, vitamin deficiencies
I am not a big fan of taking vitamins. I don’t take any myself, and generally don’t recommend that my clients take them. I believe that eating a nutrient-dense diet of whole natural foods will provide you with everything you need.
But there are two important exceptions to this for me. If your doctor recommends you take a vitamin supplement because you’re deficient in some way, then of course you should do so. And if you’re a vegan, or a vegetarian who eats very little dairy and/or eggs, then vitamin B12 supplements are a MUST.
Vitamin B12 is needed for the formation of red blood cells, nerve cells, and DNA, and is an energy metabolizer. It plays a big role in keeping the brain healthy. A lack of B12 in the diet can lead to weakness, fatigue, anemia, numbness or tingling in the limbs, and cognitive difficulties.
The problem for vegans and some vegetarians is that B12 is only found in animal-based foods–meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy. Plants do not make B12. So if you are a vegan or vegetarian who barely eats animal products, a B12 supplement is non-negotiable, or you will become malnourished and develop serious health issues.
Other people who might be at risk for B12 deficiency are those who have had weight-loss surgery, take heartburn drugs such as Nexium or Prevacid or H2 blockers like Pepcid (stomach acid is needed to absorb B12, and these drugs reduce acid), or suffer from such conditions as Celiac or Crohn’s disease. Some people over 50 may have an issue as well, as our bodies naturally produce less stomach acid as we age.
A daily multivitamin usually is sufficient for meeting our B12 needs, or you can take a B-complex pill or drops, or B12 alone. More severe deficiencies could mean a need for weekly B12 shots.
If you have any concerns about your B12 levels, ask your doctor to test you. Chronic low energy is the first warning sign that something might be amiss.
Filed under: Chronic Disease, Healthy Lifestyle, weight loss | Tags: overwork, relaxation, stress, weight gain, weight loss, work/life balance
Are you working longer and harder than ever? Do you struggle to get enough sleep? To find time to cook? To relax? To look away from your phone for more than 20 minutes at a time, because important work emails may come in, even on a Sunday?
If you’re answering, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes,” you may have also noticed that you’ve put on a few pounds over the past few years. Or that your anxiety levels have kicked up. Or that you’re always tired, no matter what. Or any other number of changes to your health.
Overwork and the deterioration of our health are closely related. Numerous studies have borne this out. And you likely know it on an intuitive level. But what can be done?
If your job is stressing you to the breaking point, you have two choices–find work you love or a way to love the work you have. If you dread going to work every day, and it’s been that way for a long time, think about whether this is really the job or career for you. Make a list of pros and cons about your job, and if the cons outweigh the pros, it may be time to either seek a similar job elsewhere, or think about what you really want to be doing with your life. Our time on this earth is short–do you really want to spend most of your time on it doing something that makes you unhappy?
If you’re not currently happy at your job but feel it truly isn’t possible to leave at the moment, then think about what steps you can take to improve your current situation. If your workload is killing you, speak with your supervisor and see what can be done to potentially lighten the load or get you support, and identify any time-wasters in your day and then eliminate them. Communication, planning, and smart time management can go a long way in helping you get through your day’s tasks. And it can really help to manage others’ expectations—if you’re routinely at work at 9 p.m., people will just come to expect that that’s what you do, and wouldn’t think twice about shooting you a work email at that hour. You may want to ask your boss—if he or she emails you over the weekend, are they hoping that you’ll deal with their request then and there? Some bosses don’t expect that—they just send the email over the weekend because they’re thinking about that particular issue and want to send the email while it’s fresh in their mind, expecting that you’ll get to it when back in the office on Monday.
With today’s seemingly endless work days, it’s more important than ever that we allow time for self-care, fun, and pleasure in our lives. If you have to schedule time for yourself into your calendar, then do it! Allow yourself time to browse your local greenmarket. Treat yourself to a massage. Sit at an outdoor café and linger over a cup of tea and the Sunday paper. Try out a new recipe you saw online. You get the idea. Whatever you choose, just know that these small steps to help you de-stress and care for yourself will make a big difference over time when it comes to your health—both mental and physical.
Filed under: Chronic Disease, Exercise, Healthy Lifestyle, weight loss | Tags: abdominal fat, belly fat, visceral fat
You’ve probably heard about the pear-shaped body vs. the apple-shaped body. The pear shape, characterized by more fat in the hips/butt/thighs, is seen as less problematic than the apple shape, where more fat is carried around the mid-section. Why does it matter where the fat is concentrated, anyway?
The fat that accumulates in the abdominal area is known as visceral fat; it lies deep in the abdominal cavity, and pads the spaces between our organs. Fat cells—particularly abdominal fat cells—are biologically active, meaning that they essentially function as an organ that produces hormones and other substances that can affect the functioning of our bodies. And the substances released by these excess cells have been linked to increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, and gallbladder problems.
The good news is that you can tackle belly fat. Regular moderate-intensity physical activity, for 30-60 minutes a day, will do wonders—walking, biking, aerobics, swimming, dancing, or any other type of cardio will work. Strength training can play a role as well in helping to trim your middle, but sit-ups and crunches—while they can firm your abs—won’t get rid of the visceral fat.
Diet-wise, you’ll want to avoid the usual villains—white flour and sugar, trans fat, and excess saturated fat. And eat plenty of fiber-rich foods.
Filed under: Chronic Disease, Grains, Healthy Lifestyle, Meat, Oils, Sweets, weight loss | Tags: bagels, cured meats, donuts, fried food, soda, unhealthiest foods, worst foods
There are a lot of mixed messages out there about which foods we should eat, and which foods we should avoid. Depending on whether you’re following the Paleo diet or the macrobiotic diet, the Bulletproof diet or a vegan diet, bananas, avocados, whole grains, and red meat are either the healthiest foods ever, or the worst foods in the world. There’s a book or a study to back up virtually any claim about nutrition.
But there are at least a handful of foods that any nutrition researcher (unless they’re on Coca-Cola’s payroll) would agree are just flat-out bad for our health. And the losers are …
Soda and other sweetened beverages. Empty calories. Higher risk of diabetes. Increased sugar cravings. Obesity. Need I go on? There is nothing redeeming about soda, sweetened teas, fruit drinks, or Vitamin Water. These drinks have a lot of calories, a ton of sugar, and are one of the main drivers of our nation’s obesity epidemic.
Bagels. One bagel equals about five servings of bread. They are essentially white flour bombs, high in calories and low in nutritive value. Inflammation, a powerful force behind so many chronic illnesses, including diabetes and heart disease, is largely caused by the consumption of added sugars and white flour.
Cured meats. Hot dogs, salami, bologna, bacon, and other cured meats significantly raise our risk of colon cancer. And in a study, men who ate processed meats five times a week were found to be nearly twice as likely to develop diabetes as men who ate them just twice a month.
Anything deep-fried. All fats and oils have about 120 calories per tablespoon. That’s nothing to worry about if you’re sautéing some vegetables in olive oil, or drizzling some oil on your salad. But foods that are battered and then tossed into a deep fryer soak up a TON of oil, and end up loaded with hundreds if not thousands of calories. The high amount of omega-6 fats in the types of oils used for deep frying also contribute to inflammation in the body.
Donuts. A triple whammy of white flour, sugar, and deep frying leads to a deeply unhealthy food. The worst breakfast you could possibly choose.
Filed under: Chronic Disease, Drugs, Healthy Lifestyle, Oils, Sweets | Tags: depression, diet, gut bacteria, omega-3 fats, sugar
Do you struggle with depression, or know someone who does? If so, you’re not alone. More than 100 million Americans cope with some level of depression—that’s one in three people. Why is this problem so widespread, and is there anything you can do about it, other than taking prescription pills?
There are many factors that can lead to depression, and those factors are going to differ for everyone. But one factor that is usually completely overlooked by the medical establishment is diet. On the whole, Americans eat so poorly that we are literally starved of the nutrients we need to keep our brains healthy. Here are some easy changes you can make to your diet to help ward off depression…
Eat your fats. Your healthy fats, that is—specifically foods high in omega-3s. Omega-3 fats are critical for the proper functioning of the brain and nervous system, and 99 percent of Americans do not eat enough of these fats. The best sources of omega-3s are fish, nuts, and seeds. It is worth noting that in Iceland, a country whose people eat a ton of fish, depression rates are extremely low (and this is a country where it is dark much of the year).
Reduce sugar intake. There are a million reasons to avoid foods with added sugar, and one of them happens to be that sugar can contribute to depression.
Eat lots of whole, real foods. The American diet of convenience tends to leave us shortchanged when it comes to nutrients. And a deficiency of such nutrients as folic acid, vitamin B12, and vitamin D can lead to increased risk of depression. Eat lots of fresh vegetables and fruits every day, in addition to lean proteins like eggs and chicken, whole grains, and legumes.
Heal your gut with food. More and more research is showing that there is a strong connection between the brain and what’s going on in the gut. Eat the kinds of foods that will help the right gut bacteria proliferate in your intestines: green vegetables as well as fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut.
Filed under: Chronic Disease, Eggs, Healthy Lifestyle, Meat, Mushrooms | Tags: Vitamin D
Whenever one of my clients tells me that they recently saw their doctor for a general checkup, they also tell me that their blood work indicated they were low in Vitamin D. I’ve just come to expect this.
Vitamin D occurs naturally in very few foods: wild salmon, herring, organ meats, egg yolks, mushrooms, and lard are about it. Milk has D added, as do some types of OJ and cereal. But it’s tough to get enough D just from food. The most effective way to get our Vitamin D is actually from the sun: It’s beneficial to expose your legs and arms for five to 10 minutes in mid-day summer sun, two or three times a week. And fortunately, our bodies can make enough vitamin D in the summer to last us all year, which comes in handy in sun-scarce winter when our bodies make virtually none.
There have been a plethora of reports stating that a lack of D can lead to such health problems as depression, high blood pressure, heart disease, and increased risk for some cancers and autoimmune diseases. The problem is that the medical community is not clear on exactly how much Vitamin D we need, or what constitutes “low” Vitamin D. For this reason, in the Annals of Internal Medicine the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommended against even getting our D routinely tested, unless you have bone-health problems or a condition that can affect fat absorption, such as celiac disease.
According to a report from Harvard Medical School, even if you test low for Vitamin D, there’s little evidence that taking a D supplement will do you any good. And too much D can actually cause calcium to accumulate in your blood, which can damage your heart, blood vessels, and kidneys.
Speaking with your own doctor about the D issue and how it affects your body would be a good course of action, as well as getting outside in this glorious summer sun. (And if you happen to like liver, go for it …)