Turn Up the Heat for a Longer Life

chilipepperIf you enjoy eating spicy foods, you will be pleased to hear that this palate preference may also lengthen your life. In a new study that followed the health and diets of over 450,000 Asian study subjects for a median of 7 years, those consuming spicy foods often were less likely to die. Relative to those consuming spicy foods less than once a week, those who ate spicy foods 3 or more days a week had a 14 percent lower risk of death, including death from cancer, heart disease, and respiratory illness. All varieties of hot peppers, both dried and fresh are home to unique bioactive compounds with potential medicinal effects. So whether you fancy a dash of chili pepper, a shake or two of hot sauce, or fresh diced chilies, this hot habit may give you more life. (BMJ,2015 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.h3942)

Why You Should Eat More Beans

I consider beans the most underutilized and underappreciated superfood.  Here are 8 compelling reasons to include them in your diet every day.

  1. Beans have megawatt nutritional power.  They provide a hefty dose of vegetable protein, more fiber and folate thanany other food group, a load of potent antioxidant flavonoids, and key minerals including iron, potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
  2. Beans fill you up without filling you out.  Their high fiber and protein make-up provides a powerful 1-2 punch for appetite suppression, while their difficult-to-digest starch keeps your glucose and insulin levels lower and steadier. Studies prove that beans are particularly helpful for staving off hunger!
  3. Beans provide awesome disease protection.  Enjoying them regularly can lower your cardiovascular risk, lower your cholesterol, lower your blood pressure, lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, “feed your brain”, and provide protection from colon and breast cancer.
  4. Beans are cheap.  You can get a serving of beans for as little as 9 cents.
  5. Beans are convenient.  Enjoy them canned, fresh, frozen, or dried in any variety – they are ALL great for you.
  6. Beans are versatile – bean dips, bean soups, beans in your salads, beans in your burritos, beans in your rice, beans in your eggs,  beans as a side dish, or  whatever suits your fancy.
  7. Beans may help your live longer.  They are a cornerstone in the diets of all the world’s longest living inhabitants, including the 7th Day Adventists of Loma Linda, California, the Nicoyans of Costa Rica, the Sardinians of Italy, and the Okinawans of Japan.
  8. Beans are a highly sustainable crop that offer a host of environmental benefits relative to most other foods.

 beans variety

Even Moderate, Brief Stress Can Sabotage Healthy Eating

brain springsIn a provocative new study designed to investigate how short periods of moderate stress affect dietary choices,  the consensus was clear–even a little stress can trip us up. For this laboratory-based evaluation, 29 study subjects, all committed to healthy eating,  were subjected to a moderate stressor (in this case  immersion of a hand in an ice water bath for 3 minutes) and then asked to choose between two food options. One food option was tastier, but less healthy and higher in calories while the other was less palatable, but healthier and lower in calories. A similar group of control study subjects underwent the same experiment, but without being exposed to the ice bath. Study subjects exposed to the ice bath were significantly more likely to choose the tastier and less healthy food option vs. the control study subjects not exposed to the brief stressor. And the results were visible in the stressed study subjects brains too. Special brain imaging tests performed during the study showed that activity in areas of the study subject’s brains involved in self-control were impaired and blunted after the ice bath stressor. (Neuron, 2015, 87(3))

While this study shows that even modest, brief stress can translate to poorer dietary choices, the good news is that studies show that we can do things that will make us more resilient and less prone to the perils of life’s day to day stressors. Click here to see them.

Refined Carbs Linked to Depression

food for thoughtThe Great White Hazards strike again, this time on the mood front. In a new analysis that followed the dietary habits of over 70,000 post-menopausal women for several years, those who consumed diets higher in refined, “high glycemic” carbs were significantly more likely to develop depression. High glycemic carbs are those that give rise to steep elevations in blood glucose and insulin, which include white flour products, white rice, white potatoes, and sugary foods and beverages. The brain is particularly vulnerable to the proinflammatory ravages of glucose and insulin spikes so these results are not at all surprising. In stark contrast, consumption of the lower glycemic, unrefined carbs (namely vegetables, whole fruit, and whole grains) was tied to a lower risk of depression. (1)
Diet is a woefully under appreciated means to guard and protect brain health and to lower the risk of mental illness, including depression. Click here to see my “Golden Guidelines”  for eating for optimal brain health and happiness.

Why Exercise is the Perfect Antidote for Midlife Weight Gain

Midlife weight gain is one of the most predictable and unhealthy accompaniments of aging with most people gaining at least a pound or two a year. Unfortunately midlife comes with a convergence of many different forces that bear on our waistlines – tipping the scales in the positive direction. The six primary drivers of midlife weight gain are:

  • A slow down in metabolism due to lostreadmillss of lean body mass (muscle)
  • A slow down in metabolism due to impaired insulin function (insulin resistance)
  • More time spent sitting
  • Less physical activity/exercise
  • Stress
  • Inadequate sleep duration or quality

Physical activity reins supreme as the ideal antidote to avoid midlife weight gain because it can improve or alleviate all six of these drivers! (And I do not know of any other factor that can achieve this.) For best results, strive for 30 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity 5 or more days a week along with 2 days of resistance (weight-bearing) exercise each week.

 

A New Rival for Fructose?

oil genericFructose, the notorious simple sugar molecule repeatedly singled out for its unique propensity to induce weight gain and metabolic dysfunction, may have a new rival-soybean oil. In a first-of-its-kind laboratory evaluation that really raised my eyebrows, scientists concluded, “soybean oil (a polyunsaturated fat) is more obesigenic and diabetogenic than coconut oil (a saturated fat) and fructose in mice.” For this study the researchers fed 4 groups of mice 4 diets of equal total calories and fat calories, but differing in their specific makeup. For diet 1 the fat calories came from coconut oil. For diet 2 the fat calories were half coconut oil and half soybean oil (equivalent to the amount of soybean oil Americans currently consume). Diets 3 and 4 were identical to diets 1 and 2 in fat makeup, but included added fructose (comparable to typical American intakes). The results were compelling. Mice fed diet 2  (half soybean oil, half coconut oil) developed significantly more weight gain, fat mass, glucose intolerance, insulin resistance, and fat in their livers than the mice fed diet 1 (coconut oil only). The addition of fructose to the diets also lead to metabolic dysfunction, but less severe than observed with the soybean oil diet. In addition to disturbed metabolic function, the soybean oil diet increased the activity of a slew of genes, including those involved in obesity, inflammation, diabetes, and even cancer. Taken as a whole, the results of this experiment showed that a diet high in soybean oil is worse for metabolic health than a diet high in fructose.

Unfortunately, American’s intakes of soybean oil have skyrocketed over the past 40 years, now comprising a whopping 60 percent of oils consumed in the US. Soybeans are a highly subsidized commodity crop making soybean oil one of the cheapest and thus most popular ingredients for the processed food industry. (PLOS ONE, 2015; 10 (7): e0132672 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0132672)

Hmm…

Perhaps it is no coincidence that America’s steep increase in soybean oil consumption mirrors our twin epidemics of obesity and diabetes. Although more studies are certainly needed to make any firm conclusions, play it safe and stick to oils that have a long history of safety and documented health benefits. Click here to see my lowdown on doing your oils right!

 

Get the most Nutritional Bang at the Salad Bar

Well stocked salad bars offer a quick and convenient opportunity to tap into the extraordinary nutritional benefits the right foods can provide.  Fortunately – comprehensive salad bars are now easy to access.  My personal favorites are Ruby Tuesday, Whole Foods and Earth Fare. To successfully navigate through the salad bar and get the most nutritional bang for your buck, keep the following five rules of the road in mind.

 salad1

Begin with a base of “healthy” greens.

  • Go for those with the deepest, richest green color.  The more color, the more disease-busting phytochemicals and the more vitamins and minerals it will have.  Baby spinach is my top pick followed by romaine and mixed mescaline greens.
  • Don’t waste your effort on iceburg lettuce – it has 10% of the RDA for absolutely nothing!  It is essentially just fiber and water.

Add as many and as much a variety of richly colored fruits and veggies as possible.

  • The nutritional superstars include: red onion, carrots, broccoli florets, tomatoes, bell peppers, olives, berries, cantaloupe and red grapes.
  • Go for volume to take full advantage of the stunning supply of micronutrients and appetite suppressive fiber these plant foods provide.  Fruits and vegetables are the reigning nutritional megastars for those that want high nutrient density and a high satiety value along with a minimal number of calories.

Always include approximately 3 ounces of high quality, lean protein (3 ounces is the amount that would fit onto the palm of your hand).

  • Your best choices would be: skinless turkey or chicken, hard-cooked eggs or low-fat cottage cheese.
  • Shrimp and fish are also fantastic if available
  • Vegetarian-protein alternatives would include: tofu squares, chick peas or other beans, or two tablespoons of nuts/seeds (almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, etc.).
  • The body requires a constant supply of protein and protein is nature’s “diet pill” – satisfying your appetite longer than any other type of food.

Top it with the salad dressing known to protect your health and your heart – olive oil and vinegar.

  • If not available, choose a reduced fat variety or vinaigrette.
  • Avoid the thicker, creamier varieties – as a little does not go a long way and they are generally made from an unhealthy oil base.

Stick with the color rule and avoid “the white stuff” – pasta salads, potato salads, croutons, chicken salads, etc.

  • They are high in calories relative to their essential nutrient content and in the case of pasta, potato and croutons, filled with appetite promoting, anti-nutrient, refined starches AKA “The Great White Hazards.”

 

Even a Little Soda May Boost Diabetes Risk

sodaIf you think it’s safe to drink just one soda a day, think again. In a powerful new analysis published in theBritish Medical Journal, scientist noted that even a single daily serving of a sugary beverage was tied to a significant boost in type 2 diabetes risk, even in lean and skinny folks. For this evaluation, the researchers pooled the results of 17 formerly published studies (none with industry ties!), including over 38,200 study subjects. The analysis revealed that for every single daily serving of a sugary beverage consumed, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes increased by 13 percent over 10 years, regardless of weight status. When the impact of weight gain was included in the analysis, the risk jumped to 18 percent per single daily serving. And don’t reach for fruit juice or diet beverages as a “safe” alternative. The same analysis found a 7 and 18 percent higher risk, respectively, for developing diabetes for these popular beverage alternatives.

Instead, do what human beings did for the previous 99.9 percent of the time we roamed on this earth-simply drink water! (July 22, 2015, BMJ, online)

 

10 Seconds to Better Weight Control

scaleWant a simple, 10-second activity proven to help with weight control? Then weigh yourself daily and record it! That was the encouraging conclusion from a two-year study recently performed by Cornell researchers. Study subjects who weighed themselves everyday and recorded their weights on a spreadsheet or chart, both lost weight and kept it off over the two year study period. The researchers were especially pleased with the later observation because studies confirm that 40 percent of weight lost with any dietary intervention is unfortunately regained in one year. This super easy tactic is felt to be uniquely effective because it forces people to see the connection between what they eat and how it translates on the scale. I weigh myself religiously every day and have no doubt this quick exercise has helped me maintain my weight in a healthy range.  (Journal of Obesity, 2015; 2015: 1 DOI: 10.1155/2015/763680)

The Six Commandments of Healthy Jet-Setters

Airports are filled with gut-busting temptations! For your airport travel, abide by these on-the-go principles for the flight to high health.

1. I will not enter the airport terminal famished, and I will always keep healthy hunger-fighting snacks in my carry-on bag for ready access.

2. Because I may be stressed, pressed for time, or bored, I will be keenly mindful of practicing self-control and prepared to totally ignore the siren calls of ice cream, donut, pastry, cookie, pretzel and candy shops. Additionally, I will strive to avoid stepping within “sniffing distance” of them.

3. If I need to eat a meal or pick one up to take on the plane, I will go straight to the nearest airport terminal map to review all of my dining options so I can make an informed, healthy decision. Better yet, I will plan to review the airport terminal map on the airport’s website prior to my flight departure so I will already be familiar with the locations of the better-for-me dining spots. Keep in mind some are available as mobile apps.

4. Assuming time allows, I will happily walk briskly (no use of trains or moving walkways) to the terminal that has the dining option that best provides the tasty and healthy meal I am proactively seeking.

5. I will keep the cardinal rules of healthy eating in mind when ordering to ensure my meal will be good for me.

6. If time allows and my healthcare provider has approved, I will use my time in the airport to walk briskly as part of my goal to build in at least 30 minutes of daily physical activity even when I am on the road. I will be grateful for my carry on bags that increase the effectiveness of my airport exercise regimen. Not taking advantage of the opportunities to walk in the airport is one of my biggest pet peeves. I am always amazed at the numbers of people just sitting around—in case you don’t know it, prolonged sitting is not only bad for you, but can be deadly!