Food Is Not Your Enemy

Alcohol: The Benefits and Risks
December 19, 2017, 11:40 am
Filed under: Chronic Disease, Healthy Lifestyle | Tags: , ,

There’s no question that too much alcohol is not good for us—heavy drinking is a major cause of preventable death, whether from liver disease or traffic accidents. But what about “moderate” drinking? And what counts as moderate, anyway?

According to the USDA, moderate drinking means one to two drinks per day for men, and one drink per day for women. One drink is considered to be 12 ounces of beer, or 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard alcohol. This quantity of alcohol is considered to be more helpful than harmful—at least when it comes to such issues as heart health. In study after study, according to the Harvard School of Public Health, moderate drinkers have a 25-40% reduced risk of heart attack and stroke. They also have less risk of developing type 2 diabetes and gallstones.

But other studies have found that even moderate drinking can raise our risk of developing certain types of cancer, such as cancer of the breast, esophagus, throat and neck, larynx, liver, and colon. As far as breast cancer risk, alcohol can change the way a woman’s body metabolizes estrogen, which can lead to higher levels of estrogen in the body. This rise, in turn, can raise breast cancer risk.

There is some good news on this front, though—folate appears to mitigate this increased risk of breast cancer significantly. In the wide-ranging Nurses’ Health Study, among women who consumed one alcoholic drink a day or more, those whose blood contained the highest levels of folate–a B vitamin found in dark leafy greens, citrus, nuts, beans, and seeds–were 90% less likely to develop breast cancer than those who had the lowest levels of folate.

It’s also good to remember that alcohol contains empty calories that do not help us feel full. If you’re concerned about your weight, remember that each glass of wine, beer, or straight liquor you have will contain 100-150 calories, and that’s before you get involved with added sugary syrups and sodas in cocktails. Have a few drinks on a Friday night and you’ve essentially had an additional dinner’s worth of calories.

So enjoy your booze, but keep your intake under control. And eat your greens!


How Your Diet Can Heal You–Or Harm You

There’s a pill for everything. Pills to treat symptoms, pills to help prevent diseases, pills to deal with mental health issues. Sometimes these pills are very necessary, and can truly save lives. But there are times when food can work as well as medicine—if not better—when it comes to addressing specific health concerns.

Here are just a few examples:

-Just recently a study found that we can reduce the risk of dementia significantly just by changing our diet—eating in a way to lower blood pressure and weight make a big difference here.

-Many people can avoid taking drugs to lower their cholesterol—which can cause such side effects as headaches, muscle pain, and increased risk of diabetes—by switching up their diets. Eating more nuts, seeds, fiber-rich foods, olive oil, and fish and sidelining such foods as white/refined carbs and sugar can make a huge difference in our cholesterol numbers.

-Increasing intake of healthy fats from plants and fish and reducing the toxic combination of sugar and too much caffeine can really help people who are suffering from depression and/or anxiety.

-Blood pressure can respond quickly to changes in salt intake. Before committing to a lifetime of taking blood pressure meds, which also can have unwanted side effects, try significantly reducing your salt intake by eating less restaurant food and processed food like chips/pretzels, cold cuts, and canned soups.

-Rather than taking acid-reducing pills (which inhibit absorption of B vitamins) or downing Tums like candy, notice if there are particular foods that are causing your reflux or stomach upset. From experience working with my clients, I’ve found that this is true virtually 100 percent of the time.

You really can think of every bite of food you’re eating as something that is either going to lead to greater health, or something that could harm your health. So choose wisely, and make food your medicine rather than your poison.

How to Slow Aging

When most of us think about the process of aging, we look at the external—our skin, our hair, our belly pouch that may have appeared in the past year. Our first response to seeing these changes may be to slather on an expensive cream, or dye our grays away, or go on a fad diet to whittle down our thickened waist. But one of the most effective ways to truly slow down our body’s aging process is to think differently about the foods we eat over the long term.

Some recent studies have found that structures in the body called telomeres play a large role in our longevity. Telomeres protect our DNA by capping the ends of our chromosomes and preventing them from becoming damaged. And it turns out that people with longer telomeres live longer than people with short telomeres.

The most effective way to ensure that you have long telomeres is to consume plenty of carotenoid-rich foods. Carotenoids are the natural pigments that are responsible for the bright colors of fruits and vegetables. Plant-based foods are also rich in antioxidants, which can help fight the oxidative stress that can lead to the shortening of our telomeres.

It’s also important to eat an anti-inflammatory diet to help prevent signs of aging. This means avoiding added sugars as well as refined carbohydrates like white bread and white rice as much as you can. When it comes to preventing inflammation in the body, vegetables and fruits are again your friend here, along with healthy fats like olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, and fish. Healthy fats also help regulate our hormonal systems, an important factor when it comes to aging as well.

And as for applying cream to our skin? I do recommend using a moisturizer that contains sunscreen daily on the face, 365 days a year. The sun does play a large role in aging our skin.

The nice thing about eating to prevent aging is that the foods I’m recommending will also help you manage your weight and reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes. So eat colorfully, don’t fear fats, and nourish those telomeres!

Is It Safe to Use a Microwave?
March 23, 2017, 10:06 am
Filed under: Chronic Disease, Healthy Lifestyle | Tags: ,

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!

The Healthiest Eaters May Lack This Vitamin
November 29, 2016, 3:34 pm
Filed under: Chronic Disease, Dairy, Eggs, Healthy Lifestyle | Tags: , , ,

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.

Is There Any “Life” in Your 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.

How to Get Rid of Abdominal 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.