Tag Archives: diet

Don’t Be Afraid of Fat

Don’t be afraid to include some high fat foods in your diet for better health. Back in the 1980s, fat became the villain that we needed to avoid for heart health and weight loss. Unfortunately, most low fat products ended up being high in sugar or strange artificial ingredients that might do us more harm than the original fat. We also didn’t understand the health benefits we could gain from good fats such as the anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fats from fish or flax.

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The concern about eating fats is that they are more calorie dense than proteins and carbohydrates. From this viewpoint, cutting out fat cuts down on calories and watching calories can help us maintain a healthy weight. But eating foods that have fat in them may help us feel more full and satisfied, which can help us avoid excess snacking. While if we ate a low fat product that was high in sugar, the possible blood sugar and energy crash later could make us want to eat more.

What are the possible health benefits of having healthy fat sources in your diet? Healthy fats can be important for our brain health. I think of the brain as being a complex series of “wires” that conduct electrical impulse. The insulation that surrounds those “wires” is made from fat, therefore our brains need fats to function properly. Certain fats can also be important fuels for our brain cells.

Choosing healthy fats, particularly sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, can reduce inflammation in the body and even protect us from heart disease. Some traditions recommend higher fat consumption to help with allergy and sinus issues. This is possibly related to inflammation reduction and/or adequate moisturization of the sinus passages. Likewise, healthy fats can be vital for healthy skin. I also look for adequate fat intake when trying to find underlying causes of constipation. Sufficient water, fiber and fat consumption can be important for proper bowel health.

Even saturated fats aren’t the offenders we once thought. For years, we were told that saturated fat from meat and dairy products contributed to heart disease. Now even more conservative groups are starting to question this connection, citing a recent study that showed higher saturated fat consumption didn’t mean higher rates of heart disease when looking at large population studies. The unique saturated fats in some oils like coconut oil are even being touted for their particular weight loss and brain health benefits.

There is still one type of fat out there that we need to avoid: transfats. These are the artificially made fats that were originally produced to replace butter and other saturated fats. Now, we know that these hydrogenated fats found in shortenings and many processed foods are the worst culprits when it comes to heart health. Surprise, surprise, the unhealthy fats are the artificial ones!

Besides avoiding transfats, the most important consideration is picking fat sources that bring a lot of other additional nutrients to the table. Many processed foods that are high in fat are just junk. Think of donuts and other white flour laden deserts. Now, stop thinking about donuts, and chose instead foods like nuts, avocados, eggs, and olive oil. These healthy fats sources are also loaded with vitamins and antioxidants to help protect our health.

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Finally because high fat foods are calorie dense, we need to watch our serving sizes. For instance, a serving of nuts is generally ¼ cup, so don’t sit there and eat a whole pound.

We are all different so the amount and types of fat we need can vary, but healthy fats are now in the good foods column. So don’t run from these healthy foods due to outdated propaganda.

Fight the Sugar Monster

Sugar is pretty much the worst food we can eat. On top of that, it is addictive and extremely prevalent. We are hardwired to crave sweet foods for the quick energy they provide, but this is a throwback to ancient times when sweets were very rare. Now, nearly every breakroom in this country has sugary temptations on a regular basis. Not to mention the entire grocery store aisles dedicated to cookies and sodas. With all of this abundance of sweets, the average American ends up eating 22 teaspoons of sugar daily, which represents 355 calories.

How is sugar bad for us? In addition to the obvious concerns like diabetes, sugar consumption can throw off our cholesterol. People who eat more sugar have higher triglycerides and lower HDL cholesterol, the good cholesterol. Eating sweets can dramatically affect our dental health and may suppress our immune system. Some researchers are also linking excess sugar consumption with dementia, describing dementia as diabetes of the brain. Finally, sugar can feed harmful bacteria and yeast, such as candida, in our digestive tracts. This imbalance of gut bacteria can have tremendous negative consequences on our health including reduced ability to get rid of toxins.

So how do we fight the sugar monster? First, I try to figure out if there are any health issues contributing to sugar cravings. These can be things like insomnia, hormone changes, unstable blood sugar, stress, and brain chemistry imbalance. In addition if we have harmful bacteria and yeast overgrowing in our gut, they can release compounds to make us crave their favorite food: sugar.

As well as addressing any of these areas that might be an issue for you, come up with some strategies to help banish the sugar fiend. First, don’t keep sweets in your house or keep them in the garage or somewhere else where they are out of sight, out of mind. I have found it helpful to try to go cold turkey with sugar. The more I avoid it, the less I want it. Of course, I still crave sugar sometimes, often after a meal. Sometimes, brushing my teeth does the trick or I will tell myself wait 30 minutes. The craving will often pass in that time.

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If my sugar cravings persist, I will eat something else like fruit, in moderation. Or I have a small amount of a xylitol or stevia sweetened treat. But don’t choose artificial sweeteners like splenda and nutrasweet, as these cause other problems. Some people notice that a spoonful of coconut oil a few times a day significantly cuts their sugar craving. Others find that amino acids, such as glutamine or tryptophan, help them out, especially if they have mood issues. And if it is time to actually have some sugar, do it in style. Choose a high quality and lower sugar treat such as a part of a very dark chocolate bar.

I feel like I could go on and on about this topic since I tend to have a sweet tooth myself. But the simplest message I could share with you is start cutting back on sugar in any way you can. Small steps are better than no steps.

Gluten Free Experiment

My mom is gluten sensitive so I knew I had at least a 50% chance of having the genes that can predispose one to gluten issues. I had experimented with going gluten free before and hadn’t found gluten to be a problem for me. Since these issues can manifest as we get older, I still was paying attention in case I developed a sensitivity later. Recently, I did notice digestive discomfort and bloating after I ate meals with lots of wheat in them.

So now I am going to be gluten free for 2 weeks. At the end of the two weeks, I am going to do a gluten challenge where I will eat a normal serving of wheat with all three meals on one day. This is a step that a lot of people skip. It helps us know how big of a deal it is for us to eat wheat or gluten. Without this step, I see people often slowing adding gluten back to their diets and not knowing whether to associate it with the symptoms they are having.

I don’t believe that everyone needs to go on a gluten free diet, but foods high in gluten are over consumed in America. This is partially due to the convenience of burger buns and wheat tortillas for making inexpensive foods for on the go. But overconsumption of wheat and other high gluten foods might be contributing to health issues in all people. Dr. Perlmutter claims that all grains in high amounts are bad for our brains. Another research found that gluten may cause some degree of leaky gut in all people. Again this doesn’t mean that everyone needs to be gluten free. I would like to see follow up research done on this new idea, and even if this theory is correct, we can rely less on wheat in our diets, but don’t have to eliminate it entirely necessarily unless it is a real problem for us.

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Gluten is a protein in wheat made up of smaller molecules called gliadin. Gluten is primarily useful for making bread since its stretchy nature allows bread to rise. When it comes to quick breads like pancakes, muffins, cornbread, and cookies, other flours can be easily substituted like the Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Flour. Your pancakes might not hold together quite as well, but they will often be lighter and fluffier. There are of course some tricks to learn about gluten free cooking such as coconut flour cannot be substituted in a one-to-one fashion for wheat flour. You use ¼ cup coconut flour for every cup of flour and add extra eggs to the recipe. I find the best success from using a mixture of gluten free flours. For instance, if I make pancakes with the Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free flour, I also add cornmeal and flaxmeal to give it a more whole grain texture.

Overall, I am not eating very many of these substitute foods. Mostly I am eating foods that have always been gluten free such as vegetables, meat, quinoa, beans, nuts, etc. But here are a few of my favorite substitute products for when I want something that would normally have wheat in it:

Udi’s Gluten Free Bagels

Rudi’s Gluten Free Multigrain Bread (But my mom disagrees. She like Canyon Bakehouse 7-Grain Bread)

PaloWraps

Against The Grain Pizza (and everything else they make)

Applegate Gluten Free Chicken Tenders (a coworker who isn’t gluten free likes these better than the regular version)

Amy’s Gluten Free Indian Aloo Mattar Wrap

Blake’s Gluten Free Chicken Pot Pie

Blue Diamond Nut Thins

WOW Baking Company Chocolate Brownies

Jennie’s Gluten Free Macaroons

And last but not least the Gluten Free Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes from A La Carte

If get accidentally glutened or want to cheat on rare occasion, try the GlutenEase enzyme from Enzymedica.

Longer Telomeres for Longer Lives

How do we live longer healthier lives? Is it inevitable that our cells will stop functioning properly and we will get chronic degenerative diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and dementia? My goal is to support my body now so that I can delay the “inevitable” for as long as possible.

We can keep our DNA and therefore our bodies functioning optimally by emphasizing healthy diet and exercise. A recent small study by Dr. Dean Ornish demonstrated that following a healthy lifestyle plan could actually lengthen our telomeres. Telomeres are the genetic caps on the end of each DNA strand. I think of them like these plastic protectors on the ends of shoelaces.

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As our cells divide, our DNA is copied. With each copy, the telomeres get a little shorter. Eventually, we can lose so much of our telomeres that our DNA is not longer protected. The cells produced at this point don’t have all the tools they need to be fully functioning cells and our health can suffer.

The shortening of telomeres has been linked to many chronic diseases including some forms of cancer, stroke, cardiovascular disease, obesity, osteoporosis and diabetes. Because of this, some people regard telomere length to be the best marker of our true biological age.
In Dr. Ornish’s study, participants followed a plant-based diet, exercised regularly, and participated in stress reduction activities like gentle yoga-based stretching, breathing exercises, and meditation. The 10 men doing these lifestyle interventions had a 10% increase in the length of their telomeres over 5 years. The control group showed a 3% decrease in their telomere length during that time.

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This was just a small study using participants who had prostate cancer, so we cannot definitely say that everyone making similar healthy changes will see the same results. We also need more studies that confirm that longer telomeres contribute to longer healthier lives, but we know that these types of beneficial changes make sense anyways. Additionally, another study showed that women who took multivitamins had longer telomeres that their peers the same age who didn’t.
I consider studies like these to be further motivation for us to make these types of healthy changes to our lives. They give us hope that we can even undo some of the damage we might have already done by making better choices today.