Archive for January, 2010
Friday, January 29th, 2010
In the winter when the cold weather blows in, you might find it hard to motivate yourself to get out of bed or even leave the house. Shorter winter days also mean less sunlight every day and sunlight helps us feel wide-awake. You might be experiencing a winter slump and a drop-off in energy levels like many other people. And when lacking in energy, many people look towards food for an extra boost. Make sure you’re choosing the right foods year-round and follow these tips for beating your winter blues!
Mood, sleep and appetite are regulated by serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. Folic Acid, or folate, helps your body to process and lower homocysteine levels. High levels of homocysteine are associated with damage to blood vessels, in addition to interfering with the flow of blood and nutrients to the brain. Impaired blood flow may leave you feeling sluggish or slow to process or recall information.
Good sources of folic acid are green leafy vegetables (spinach, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts), potatoes, fortified breads and cereals, beans, peas and mushrooms.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids have hormone-like effects and anti-inflammatory properties in the body. People who experience seasonal depression during fall and winter have been found to have lower levels of omega-3s. They have also been found to experience an improvement in mood with supplementation of this nutrient.
Omega-3s are found in fatty fish like salmon and tuna, some plant oils (flaxseed, canola), and walnuts.
The body normally makes Vitamin D from sunlight. This nutrient has many different roles in the body, one of which is to help in the production of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps you to feel calm, relaxed and happy. Many people are lacking in Vitamin D in the winter because of fewer daylight hours and exposure to sunlight. Currently, Vitamin D is being investigated for its ability to decrease depressive symptoms. Eat foods that are a good source of this vitamin.
Low fat milk is fortified with Vitamin D, in addition to many cereals and some orange juices (check the labels). One important thing to note is that food sources of Vitamin D are limited, and many people are deficient in this nutrient without even realizing it. Depending on your diet, you may need to take a Calcium + Vitamin D supplement.
Known for their ability to relax and calm your mood, carbohydrates can contribute to sleepiness. A diet high in protein and lower in carbohydrates may help to improve mood, stimulate energy and chase away feelings of sluggishness. Protein foods made from amino acids help to stimulate the production of tyrosine, which is responsible for the synthesis of neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine. These are chemicals in your brain that promote feeling alert and that enhance energy.
Low fat dairy products like milk, cheese, cottage cheese and yogurt are good sources of protein, in addition to lean meats, poultry and eggs. Aim to have some protein on your plate at every meal to keep feeling lively and active all year round!
Many herbs and spices are notorious for their beneficial effects on health in addition to adding flavor to dishes. Rosemary has been shown to increase blood flow to your brain and improve mood. Like Omega-3 fatty acids, this herb also has anti-inflammatory properties and may even benefit the immune system. Responsible for fighting infection and warding off winter colds and flu, keeping your immune system strong will keep you on your feet and feeling great.
Use Rosemary to season your meals and bolster your immunity this winter season!
Just because the sky is gray and the temperature is low, doesn’t mean your mood has to be! Choosing the correct foods (in the appropriate portions) can give you more energy and help you handle those winter doldrums.
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Friday, January 22nd, 2010
The Age of Computers and Television has also become the Age of the Couch Potato. Instead of running outside to play, our kids choose to sit down and text. This decrease in activity level is contributing to the current child obesity epidemic. One third of all children in the United States are overweight or obese and at risk for medical illness because of their weight. Is your child part of that group? If so, insufficient exercise could be partly to blame.
A new study from the British Heart Foundation revealed that the vast majority of parents overestimate the amount of time their kids exercise. According to this study, seven out of ten parents think their kids get enough exercise but only one in ten actually meets current recommendations. Most parents don’t even know what the current recommendations are! The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends one hour of exercise almost every day of the week. Few children get even half that amount.
And many people confuse “physical activity” with “exercise”. True exercise requires an increase in heart rate and the inability to speak in full sentences. Your child is not working hard enough if she can carry on a conversation while she is moving. The next time your child is exercising, try this “talk test”. Ask her a question and see how she answers it. If she responds fluidly without any huffing and puffing, ask her to turn the intensity of her exercise up a notch. You can be sure your child is really exercising is she takes deep breaths between words.
Parents often believe that their kids are exercising whenever they play a sport. Yet many sports do not get a child’s heart rate up enough to constitute true exercise. Consider baseball; a child playing baseball spends most of his time sitting on the bench waiting to bat or standing in the field waiting for the ball. I always tell my patients that baseball isn’t exercise! Of course, a baseball practice that includes running drills is an exception and would be considered real exercise.
When parents ask me if a particular sport is considered exercise, I tell them that it depends. When my daughter first started to play soccer, she would stand on the sideline and watch the other kids run with the ball. If the ball would happen to come to her, she would kick it. Clearly, this was not exercise. But fast-forward two years later and she is a soccer animal! She runs up and down the field, trying to get the ball and score. Now she is exercising!
How can you ensure that your child is getting enough exercise? I recommend scheduling your child’s exercise just as you schedule a doctor’s appointment. Decide in advance when your child has the time to exercise and put it on the calendar. The key is to keep these appointments. Being tired or not in the mood does not constitute a reason to skip an exercise session. Would you skip a doctor’s appointment for those reasons? Of course not! Treat your exercise sessions the same way.
Remember, 70% of parents incorrectly believe their kids are getting enough exercise. Do not be part of that group! Examine your child’s exercise routine with an unbiased eye and make sure that she is getting the exercise she needs.
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Friday, January 15th, 2010
You can’t trust everything you read, especially if it is a nutrition label! In a disheartening study from the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, researchers found that many dietetic frozen food entrees had many more calories than their nutrition labels claimed; on average, the frozen foods, including items from Weight Watchers, Lean Cuisine, Healthy Choice, and South Beach, contained 8% more calories than their boxes suggested. They also found many discrepancies between the number of calories in food items at many popular chain restaurants and the number of calories these restaurants claim their food contains. On average, restaurant foods contained 18% more calories than listed.
So if you can’t trust a printed calorie count, what can you trust? It seems, not much.
According to restaurant representatives, these calorie discrepancies are due to slight variations in portions sizes. For example, a particular restaurant worker may use slightly more cheese in the potato skins than another restaurant employee. They claim that it is impossible for workers across the country to keep menu items completely uniform.
This study brings into question the usefulness of the new “calorie labeling” laws recently passed in many areas, including New York City. What is the purpose of requiring companies to post calorie counts if they are not accurate?
In my opinion, calorie postings are crucial, even if the actual calorie count is not exact. According to the FDA, restaurant and packaged foods are allowed a 20% margin of error. Therefore, a 300 calorie sandwich may contain anywhere from 270 to 330 calories. These “estimates” (which is really what they are) give consumers a good idea of how healthy a food is. Even if you don’t know exactly how many calories an item contains, the postings give you an idea of which choices are healthier than others. And since few Americans adhere to a very strict number of daily calories, a rough estimate is good enough.
Some nutrition experts argue that eating an extra hundred or so calories on a continual basis will lead to weight gain. Of course that statement is true, but I just don’t see a better alternative. Having some idea of how many calories a food contains is better than having no idea at all.
Certain restaurants, however, have crossed the line. Slight variations in portion size do not explain the fact that P.F. Chang’s Sichuan Asparagus had more than DOUBLE the 200 calories the dish is reported to contain. Such egregious discrepancies are unacceptable and restaurants should have to pay significant fines for misleading the public.
Yet not all items went over their stated calorie counts. Researchers found many items that contained fewer calories than reported! Domino’s large thin crust pizza, for example, had one third fewer calories than the listed 180 calories per serving. Now that is a refreshing piece of news, although I guarantee that Domino’s will be posting this new, lower calorie count faster than P.F. Chang’s will change their Sichuan Asparagus calorie count!
Obviously, I would like calorie postings to be as accurate as possible. But when actual people are preparing the meals, there is no way for serving sizes to be 100% standardized. With the current obesity crisis as it is, we need to do everything we can to give consumers as much nutrition information as possible. Until there is a way to exactly calculate how many calories a person is eating, calorie estimates will have to suffice. Let’s just institute strict laws for companies, like P.F. Chang’s, who blatantly misrepresent themselves.
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Friday, January 8th, 2010
Remember when weight loss was simply about eating less and exercising more? These days, dieting is getting high tech. Every day, studies are released about the benefits of new electronic weight loss gadgets. But are they really necessary and will they actually help with weight loss?
A recent study from the British Medical Journal promotes the use of a small computer-linked food scale (called a Mandometer) to help with weight loss. The Mandometer was developed by researchers from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute. Dieters put their plates on this scale which weighs the remaining food as the meal is eaten. There is also a small screen which shows dieters the rate at which they are eating their food and the ideal rate at which they should be eating their food. When food is eaten too quickly, the computer tells the dieter to slow down.
The goal is to teach dieters to eat more slowly. As we have all heard time and again, it takes twenty minutes for the brain to tell the belly that it is full. Many overweight people eat too quickly; by the time the “fullness” signal gets to them, they have already eaten more food than necessary. Studies have shown that when you eat food more slowly, you feel full after fewer calories.
So does this new scale work? Doctors in England studied its use in obese children age nine to 17 years over an 18 month period. The study group was trained on using the Mandometer while the control group was not. Both groups were counseled to exercise one hour a day and follow a healthy diet.
After one year, the study group’s BMI had fallen an average of 2.1 points, around three times more thank the control group. Even better, this weight loss was maintained when measured 18 months later. At the end of the study, Mandometer patients were eating smaller servings at each meal and snack. They also ate their food more slowly than dieters in the control group.
I think the Mandometer sounds great. I constantly counsel my patients to eat more slowly. But it is not always easy; people don’t realize how quickly they are eating. A device that helps dieters eat more slowly can only help!
And the Mandometer is not the only new high-tech weight loss device. Other groups of doctors are developing wearable wireless sensors to monitor the overweight as they go about their daily lives. These sensors document how often the wearer exercises, how much food he eats, and the location in which he eats his food.
Why is it so important to have this information clearly delineated? Studies show that when dieters “self-report” what they have eaten and how much they have exercised, the data is usually not accurate. Dieters often underestimate portion sizes, forget some of the “little bites” they have eaten during the day, and exaggerate the calorie burn of their exercise. By using this sensor, the information becomes more accurate and more reliable.
Many of these devices are currently in development. Some of them contain video cameras or Bluetooth-enabled cell phones so users can take pictures of their meals, thereby documenting portion sizes. Dieters take pictures of their food before and after eating. The information can then be sent to a lab where a calorie count can be determined. In some instances, dieters can get immediate feedback about their calorie intake!
These devices also contain accelerometers that can measure the length and intensity of a workout. If the device senses a prolonged period of inactivity, the wearer can receive a text message telling them to get moving!
But do these devices actually lead to weight loss? It seems logical that they would but studies are still ongoing. I know that I would LOVE to try one of these sensors. I imagine that the cost of the device and the data interpretation would be high but I think the results would be invaluable.
The bottom line is that most dieters underestimate the number of calories they eat each day and overestimate the calorie burn of their exercise sessions. A gadget to accurately gauge this information should help set the record straight. I believe that if these sensors become widely available, weight loss would become that much easier.
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Monday, January 4th, 2010
Welcome Year 2010! Let this be a year for being fit, having fun, spending time with family, and making healthy choices. Here are some tips and daily reminders for starting off the New Year right.
Tip 1: Do not let last year discourage you!
Let last year’s bumps in the road be a stepping stone for this year’s improvements. Focus on how you and your family can improve the food choices you make each day. For example, when you’re dining out, help each other choose healthier options from the menu. Encourage your family members to avoid the bread and butter before the meal is served and avoid heavy dressings and sauces that often contain hundreds of extra “hidden” calories. Remember to help each other out while dining out and also while at home. Everybody needs a support system.
Tip 2: Be smart! Do not let the mish mash of words advertised on food packages trick you.
Phrases such as “whole grain”, “no artificial flavors and colors added”, and “fortified with vitamins” do not necessarily indicate healthy and nutritious food options. Instead of trusting a food’s advertisements, check out its nutrition label. It would be helpful to compare two similar products and their calorie counts, grams of carbohydrate, and sugar content per serving. Remember, nutrition labels never lie!
Number 3: Have the whole family get involved and plan ahead.
Make a New Year’s Resolution to plan ahead. Set aside one half hour each night during the week, possibly right after dinner, to sit with your kids and plan the next day’s meals. First, plan a healthy and balanced meal for breakfast (aim to include at least one serving of fruit). A smoothie made with low-fat yogurt and varied fruit is a simple way to sneak much-needed fruit and dairy into breakfast. Yum!! Each week, one family member can be in charge of picking the smoothie flavors for the week. During this time you should also help each other pack lunch boxes for the following day. Planning ahead will give you and your family time to think clearly through each meal, becoming aware of your options and choices. Rushed choices are generally not the most nutritious. Planning ahead can lead to a much healthier diet!
Number 4: Be smart about food shopping.
First, remember to bring your list and if you usually do not bring one, start one! It is easy to get distracted with all of the advertisements on food packages. Sticking to your shopping list will help you avoid purchasing unnecessary and unhealthy items. Secondly, it is a good idea to have a snack before going food shopping. This will help you focus on the health value of what you are buying and not on what looks good for a snack at the moment. Hungry shoppers always buy more food! Snacking beforehand will also help you avoid “free samples” that add plenty of extra calories. Recently, even non-food stores have added snack sections offering sugary sodas, candy, and salty snacks to distracted and hungry customers. Therefore, it is a good idea to have a snack prior to leaving the house.
Number 5: Educate your children.
Lastly, it is important to talk to your kids and teach them how to make healthy choices. The best way to do this is to keep them involved. Instead of simply banning unhealthy foods from the house, explain to them why it is important to eat a healthy diet. Educate them by explaining that eating healthy at a young age leads to a healthy heart and body and will keep them feeling great for life! Explain the importance of eating a variety of different foods each day. You should also explain the importance of each food group. By researching and learning about healthy choices and diets together, you and your children can start off the New Year on the right food and create a live-able, easy, and fun pattern of eating.
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