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Add Cherries to Your Healthy Diet

15 Jan

You can add cherries to the list of foods with a plethora of health benefits.  More specifically, tart cherries are another of nature’s “superfoods,” with beneficial effects for insomnia, joint pain, or belly fat.

Here are some of the (surprising) health benefits of cherries:

  • Cherries help reduce belly fat.  They also help reduce levels of certain inflammation markers linked to heart disease and diabetes, and lower blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides.
  • Cherries reduce your chance of getting gout, especially when combined with the uric-acid reducing drug, allopurinol.
  • Cherries can ease post-workout soreness.  When consumed immediately after a workout, cherries (or tart cherry juice) significantly reduced muscle inflammation, pain, and soreness.
  • Cherries are a natural arthritis remedy.  Researchers have found that drinking tart cherry juice twice daily for three weeks led to significant reductions in important inflammation markers.
  • Cherries reduce stroke risk.  Tart cherries provide cardiovascular benefits equal to some medications, and can improve the result even when taken with prescriptions.  Anthocyanins — the pigments that give the tart cherries its red color — may help regulate fat and glucose levels and thereby reduce risk factors for high cholesterol, blood pressure, and diabetes.
  • Cherries may help you sleep.  In one study, there were significant increases in time in bed, total sleep time, and sleep efficiency total with cherry juice supplementation.

Who knew?

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Happy New Year! (it’s resolution time)

7 Jan

Happy New Year, once again, and welcome to the end of the first full week of 2016.  Although I’m not a big proponent of annual resolutions, this time of year certainly lends itself to that process for lots of people.  If you’re one of them, here are some considerations in your quest for self-improvement:

  • Upgrade your pantry and fridge.  Replace the high-sugar, refined, processed, and fried foods and snacks with healthier options like nuts, fruits, and veggies.
  • Schedule your workout.  You’re more likely to commit to a regular workout if you schedule it as part of your day/week as you would any other appointment or obligation.
  • Train with a buddy to keep you motivated and accountable.  Research shows that you’re more likely to stay on task if you workout with a partner, especially if he or she is more fit than you.
  • Try new foods.  Experiment with new recipes and try to avoid stuff that comes out of a bag, package, or box.
  • Get your sleep.  You’ll feel and perform better when you are well-rested.  Aim for 7-8 hours of shuteye per night.
  • Try a new activity.  If your current routine is getting stale, move on.  Finding an activity you enjoy increases the likelihood that you’ll make it a priority.
  • Take a break.  Set aside time in your daily calendar for two 15-minute breaks — one in the morning and another in the afternoon.  Go for a walk, listen to music, or grab a healthy snack to improve productivity.
  • Get more color in your diet.  Try to include at least three colorful fruits and vegetables on your plate at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Colorful meals are packed with antioxidants and nutrients to help fight illness and decrease inflammation.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Gluten Sensitivity: Fact or Fiction?

4 Dec

Recently, I’ve had a few customers inquire about the potential benefit of a gluten-free diet.  The gluten-free market is supported by billions of dollars in sales, very little science, and a lot of hype.

Ultimately, there are very few scientific studies supporting a gluten-free diet for individuals who are not afflicted with celiac disease (gluten intolerance) or wheat allergy.

What is gluten?

Gluten is protein that is found in wheat and related grains, including barley and rye.  Gluten gives elasticity to dough, helping it rise and keep its shape, and often gives the final product a chewy texture. In addition to being found in breads, cereals, etc., gluten is also used in cosmetics, hair products, and other dermatological preparations.

Gluten sensitivity

There are very few (3) actual gluten-related disorders: wheat allergy, celiac disease, and non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS).  In terms of prevalence, About 0.1% of the population has a wheat allergy. Wheat allergy is most prevalent in children between 3-5 years old who have other food allergies. Often, the children outgrow it.  Approximately 1% of people in Europe and North America have been diagnosed with celiac disease.

Symptoms

Wheat allergy, celiac disease, and NCGS all share the same gastrointestinal symptoms: cramps, bloating, nausea, flatulence, diarrhea or constipation, and abdominal pain, especially after exposure to wheat or gluten. After gluten ingestion, symptoms can present between several hours and several days later.

Treatment

For any person diagnosed with a gluten-related disorder, it is important for them to adhere to a gluten-free diet in order to prevent gastrointestinal disturbances, optimize nutrient absorption (thereby reducing risk of anemia and osteoporosis), and, in the case of celiac disease, reduce the risk of intestinal lymphoma (cancer related to elevated inflammation.

Considerations

Many nutrition experts consider the gluten-free diet a fad.  It has also been strongly suggested that the benefit of going “gluten-free” is actually derived from reducing carbohydrates, especially refined grains.

A “gluten-free” label does not necessarily equate to “healthy.”  People can improve the quality of their diet by substituting baked goods with healthier options, in general. For example, choosing salads and fruit instead of pizza and brownies will lead to an increase in the consumption of essential nutrients and better control of caloric intake.

Studies have shown that the gluten-free version of a food is almost always more expensive; food “staples” such as bread and pasta are approximately twice as expensive as the traditional version.

A diet that increases energy and focus and helps prevent gastrointestinal distress is appealing. However, there is currently no support for a gluten-free diet in people who have not been diagnosed with gluten sensitivity. Eating a healthy, balanced diet that is abundant in nutrient-rich foods and low in highly processed food will fuel your body for optimal health and athletic potential. If you experience symptoms that are compromising your performance, you may consider getting tested for gluten sensitivity and other minor allergies/intolerances/sensitivities.

Don’t be too quick to jump on the gluten-free “bandwagon.”  If you want to “clean up” your diet, start by reducing/eliminating processed foods, refined grains, food with added sugars and saturated fat.  Eat whole grain/high-fiber carbs; lots of fruits and veggies; unsaturated fats; and lean protein.  Maintain a reasonable daily caloric intake, based on your target weight and activity level.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Nutrition 101 for Student-Athletes

29 Oct

School days are often long days for student-athletes — early mornings, late evenings, and lots of activity during the day.  This can present some challenges, as it relates to nutrition.

The “3 square meals” philosophy is an antiquated notion for everyone, most of all active individuals and athletes.  It takes a little planning and preparation, but it’s important to keep your body adequately fueled throughout the day, and that means eating (meals and/or snacks) frequently and avoiding prolonged periods between meals and/or snacks.  (Please refer to my blog post, 6 Simple Nutrition Rules for Athletes)

There are two times of day that are especially important to ensure that you’re fueling your body:

  • Mid-morning, between breakfast and lunch.  Many student-athletes have 5-6 hours between breakfast and lunch — too long.  A mid-morning snack can help bridge the nutrition gap between the first two meals of the day.
  • After-school, between lunch and dinner.  Many student-athletes eat lunch between 11 AM and 12 Noon.  Because of after-school practices, games, etc., they may not have the opportunity to eat dinner until 6 PM or later — way too long.  An after-school snack (or small meal) can provide the body with the energy it needs for rigorous, high-intensity after-school activity, while bridging the nutrition gap between lunch and dinner.  (Please refer to my blog post, Bridging the Nutrition Gap Between Lunch and Dinner for the Scholastic Athlete)

Set yourself up for success and take care of your body by eating smart.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Fat is not the Enemy

22 Oct

A few decades ago, “low-fat” and “fat-free” were all the rage.  The “experts” decided that dietary fat reduction would reduce obesity and heart disease.  Even the American Heart Association got behind this initiative.

Ironically, obesity rates and heart disease prevalence did not improve with a low-fat diet and, in fact, got worse.  That’s because eating fat doesn’t make us fat, but carbs and sugars do.  And, unfortunately, words like “low-fat” and “fat-free” often translate to “loaded with sugar.”

Additionally, our “super-size” mentality doesn’t help (nor does a sedentary lifestyle).  Portion control (or lack thereof) — overeating — remains a significant challenge in our country.

I’m not suggesting that we should increase our fat consumption, especially people who have health risks like high cholesterol, but certainly awareness and education are warranted.

Here’s an article — 5 Reasons why you need more fat in your diet — that provides some perspective.  Ultimately, fats and carbs have a different effect on the body and its propensity to store fat, and eating fat won’t necessarily make us fat; all fats (saturated, unsaturated) are not created equal; and moderation is still the key.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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7 Coffee Facts You Need to Know

8 Oct

Apparently, Saturday, September 29 was National Coffee Day.  I missed it.

I’ve touted the benefits of coffee and caffeine in past articles and blog posts (Please see Coffee, Caffeine, and Exercise, among others).  Here’s an informative article from The Ladders’ Meredith Lepore.  Read it with your daily cup of java.

It seems like every day there is a new study telling us either that coffee is slowly killing us, making us healthier, making us smarter, making us dumber, helping us grow wings, etc., However there are a number of studies that have come out recently that reveal some very interesting facts about your daily cup of joe. In honor of National Coffee Day, this Saturday, check out these 7 facts about coffee.

It can make everyone you work with so much more appealing

A recent study that appears in the Journal of Psychopharmacology finds that if you have coffee before a conversation it will actually make you focus better and feel better about the people you are talking to. “The study was conducted using people who consume coffee regularly,” said study author Vasu Unnava. “For these people, it looks like coffee does make them feel more alert, focuses their thinking on the topic or task at hand, and has them participate more in group tasks. So, if you are a coffee drinker, it looks like coffee helps you do better in group tasks.”

The ideal time to drink coffee is actually four hours after you wake up

Though many of us can only get out of bed on the basis of knowing that a hot cup of coffee will be running through our bloodstreams within the hour, that is not actually when you should drink it if you want to maximize the benefits of caffeine. According to Laura Cipullo, registered dietitian and author of Women’s Health Body Clock Diet, you should have your first cup about four hours after you wake up. You are actually naturally alert when you wake up (even though it doesn’t feel like it) because your cortisol levels are high. So drinking caffeine on top that status is just going to make the drop even harder a few hours later.

It will extend your lifespan

In a study of 9 million British male and female adults, coffee drinkers had a slightly lower risk of death over 10 years (10 to 15%) than those who didn’t drink it regularly according to study, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. Another study that took place over 10 years found that people who had four cups of coffee per day had a 64% lower risk of dying during the study than those who never drank it.

It won’t dehydrate you

Though coffee gets a bad rap it will not dehydrate you! Caffeine can keep you more hydrated than other liquids because you are usually drinking it with a volume of fluid like iced coffee or tea. A 2014 study found that there was zero evidence of dehydration with moderate daily coffee intake.

It can help you lose weight

According to a study out of the Netherlands, caffeine can increase your metabolic rate by as much as 11% and only three hours after you consume it.

It helps with memory

In addition to making you more alert, it can help you improve your memory according to a French study. But the best way to reap the memory benefits are by drinking it black (no sugar, creamer, etc.,) In addition to helping with memory it also can make you more intelligent, cleanse your gut, help your heart, improve your workouts, etc.

It can fend off diseases

A new study from the Simmons Cancer Center at UT Southwestern Medical Center found that consumption of coffee (both regular and decaf) is associated with a lower risk of developing colon cancer. Another study found that coffee can have some preventative qualities against type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It can even fight against the onset of Parkinson’s.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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What Constitutes a Healthy Diet?

10 Sep

When it comes to healthy dietary recommendations, there’s a lot of conflicting information from the world of medical science.  To complicate matters, there are about a zillion books, documentaries, and news reports that attempt to provide us with nutritional “advice.”

Despite a plethora of differing opinions from the “experts,” there is an issue on which they agree: Our country has an alarming obesity problem.  About 1 in every 4 health care dollars are spent combating the resulting side effects of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Physical activity is a big part of the solution.  Regular exercise is good medicine, both as prevention and treatment.

Diet and nutrition are the complement to exercise.  Here’s some sound nutritional advice for the masses (and about as close to a consensus as the experts get):

  • Eating fat doesn’t make you fat.  The importance of reducing fat intake is a myth, and was never supported by any good evidence.  All it did was make people rush to replace fat with carbs.
  • Some fats are better than others.  Unsaturated fats — like those found in olive oil, nuts, and legumes — are good choices.  Too much saturated fat (red meat, cheese, butter) can be bad.  Trans fats, sometimes listed on food labels as “partially hydrogenated oils,” should be avoided.
  • Choose your calories wisely.  Some forms of calories make you store fat more readily than others, and refined carbohydrates — white rice, pasta, crackers, cookies, candy — are at the top of that list.
  • A protein-rich diet may or may not be good for you.  If you’re physically active and eat lean protein sources (chicken and fish), it’s a good thing.  If you’re sedentary, it’s just a lot of extra calories from another source.
  • Sugar is bad, especially when you drink it.  Sugary beverages — even one a day — raise your risk of diabetes and obesity.  Sugar has adverse metabolic effects and virtually zero nutritional benefit.
  • Your body needs variety to function properly.  Every day, you should eat an assortment of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole-grains, and healthy fats.  Whole foods are better than supplements.  Aim for balance.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Upgrade Your Diet With Blueberries

20 Aug

Several months ago, I published a blog post encouraging readers to Eat Protein and Produce at Every Meal.  Eating lots of produce — fruits and vegetables — is beneficial to our health and wellness.

Some fruits, such as blueberries, are higher in nutrients than others.  Blueberries actually contain more antioxidants than any other fruit.  Antioxidants help prevent damage to the body’s cells and strengthen its immune system.

Some of the health benefits of eating blueberries include:

  • Very rich in vitamins C, B complex, E, and A
  • Also rich in minerals like selenium, zinc, and iron
  • May help reduce belly fat and risk factors for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome, according to a new University of Michigan study
  • Helps promote urinary tract health
  • Proven to help preserve vision, and prevent or delay macular degenerationcataracts, and myopia
  • Improves brain health by preventing degeneration and death of neurons, brain-cells, and also by restoring health of the central nervous system
  • The vitamins, sodium, copper, fructose, and acids improve digestion
  • They contain compounds that can inhibit cancer cell proliferation and reduce risk for certain cancers

In season, fresh blueberries are great — in cereal, oatmeal, salads, and blended into smoothies and shakes.  I keep a big bag of frozen blueberries (from the local wholesale club) in my freezer all year-round.  They’re every bit as nutritious as fresh blueberries, according to the experts, and convenient to use however and whenever you choose.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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What’s In Your Protein Powder?

13 Aug

Protein powder is a great way to supplement your daily protein intake.  Most protein powders promise about 20-25 grams of protein, per serving, give or take.

Unfortunately, the supplement industry is not appropriately regulated (the FDA doesn’t stipulate how manufacturers report a product’s protein content) and, as a result, you may or may not always get what the label promises.

Independent testing confirms that some protein supplement brands use added ingredients to “spike” their protein test results, making it appear that the product contains more protein than they actually do.

Here’s an informative article, originally published in Nutraceuticals World, that provides the “how to” as it relates to calculating a product’s protein content.

Look for independent, third-party quality control and purity testing when choosing your protein supplement.

As a general rule, if it takes more than one scoop of protein powder to get the 20-25 grams promised on the label, find another protein powder — it’s got too much unnecessary “stuff”  in it.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Training Table 101: Protein and Complex Carbs

9 Jul

Fall sports season is just around the corner, which means training camp time for football, soccer, and volleyball players, among others.

For most of these athletes, August will be the most active and physically demanding few weeks that they have.  One of the challenges facing these athletes is that many of them have not maintained healthy eating habits needed to complement their energy expenditure.

During training camp, many players actually struggle to keep weight on, rather than off.  Understanding the importance and impact of appropriate calorie consumption — as well as specific intake of fats, carbs, and proteins — is a must.

Basically, calorie consumption should take (at least) two factors into consideration: Body weight (desired) and physical activity (duration, frequency, intensity level, ambient temperature).

A typical meal or snack should be pretty simple:

  • Protein, such as steak, chicken, or fish
  • Vegetable
  • Healthy starch, including sweet potato, brown rice, whole grain pasta, etc.

The focus should be on protein and complex carbohydrates.  Additionally, adequate fluid intake — before, during, and after physical activity — is critical to prevent dehydration.

Athletes burn a lot of energy during training camp.  Most of these players have invested considerable time and effort training during the off-season to prepare themselves for the rigors of the upcoming season.  Proper nutrition is important to prevent weight loss, and loss of muscle mass.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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