Wednesday, 27 November 2013

4 Ways to Stay Slim for the Holidays

The eating season is upon us.

You'll see and hear statistics suggesting people gain as many as 10 pounds during the holidays. Likely you won’t put on double-digit weight, but a recent study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that devourers of turkey and Christmas cookies gain an average of 2.2 pounds from mid-November to New Year’s Day. Obese people were even more likely to gain extra weight. 

The problem is compounded because the bulges accumulate over the holidays and the years. 

This season, though, can be different. Here are four steps to avoid the belly-ballooning this holiday season and start January 1 ahead of the game.

Exercise in the Morning 
Instead of losing track of your exercise program among all the festivities, get your training out of the way well before party time. One study from Appalachian State University showed that a vigorous morning cycling workout helped average guys burn an extra 190 calories over the ensuing 14 hours—on top of the 500 calories they burned during the workout. Researchers credit the post-exercise metabolism boost to the workout using more fat and less carbohydrates for energy. (Try this intense 4-minute cardio routine to really kick-up your heart rate.)

Need more motivation to get going Thanksgiving morning? Sign up for a local Turkey Trot. T-Day is the most popular holiday for road racing (676,000 finishers in 2011, according to Running USA, a nonprofit organization that tracks road racing trends) and it’s a great addition to your holiday gameplan. 

Dissect the Buffet 
Whether it’s a work event or a party with friends, there's usually a buffet. Rather than blindly grabbing a plate and heading to the front of the spread, survey the scene first to decide what you really want. Otherwise you'll just heap everything on your plate as you come to it. 

And if you’re the one putting out the food, keep the healthy options together and place them front and center. A new study from Cornell University found that when healthy foods like fruit, yogurt, and granola are offered at the head of a breakfast buffet line, only 39 percent of eaters grabbed higher-calorie dishes like cheesy eggs and bacon. When eggs, bacon, and potatoes were positioned first, 78 percent of people tossed them on their plate. 


Will Snacking Between Meals Make You Gain Weight?

Yesterday, we reported on a study that found eating mini meals throughout the day may not be the best weight-loss strategy. And today we've got evenmore evidence to support the finding that snacking may not help you keep off pounds. A new study from Drexel University, published in the journalAppetite, found that people who skip snacks before a meal eat roughly the same amount at the meal as those who eat something beforehand.
For the study, researchers divided participants into two groups: The first group had a protein shake, and the second group didn't eat anything. Then, researchers told both groups to eat a regular meal roughly four hours later. Guess what? Those who'd fasted didn't eat any more than those who'd had the shake.

End those Muscle Aches with Berries

The burning sensation during strenuous exercise may be related to the build-up of lactic acid in our muscles (see Reducing Muscle Fatigue with Citrus), but that’s different than the delayed onset muscle soreness that occurs in the days following a bout of extreme physical activity. This post-exercise soreness is thought to be due to inflammation caused by muscle cell damage (little micro-tears in the muscle).
If it’s an inflammatory reaction then might anti-inflammatory phytonutrients help? The bioflavonoids in citrus might help with the lactic acid buildup, but we may need to ramp up to the anthocyanin flavonoids in berries to deal with the inflammation.
We know, for example, that if you eat about 45 cherries a day you can significantly reduce the levels of inflammatory markers like c-reactive protein in your bloodstream. Mushrooms (Boosting Immunity While Reducing Inflammation), nuts (Fighting Inflammation in a Nut Shell), and purple potatoes (Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Purple Potatoes) may also reduce inflammation (along with plant foods in general, see Anti-Inflammatory Antioxidants and Aspirin Levels in Plant Foods) so much so that plant-based diets can be used to treat inflammatory conditions. See, for example, Dietary Treatment of Crohn’s DiseaseDiet & Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Potassium and Autoimmune Disease. Animal products on the other hand (paw?), may increase inflammation through a variety of mechanisms, including endotoxins (How Does Meat Cause Inflammation?), arachidonic acid (Chicken, Eggs, and Inflammation), and Neu5Gc (The Inflammatory Meat Molecule Neu5Gc).

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Saturday, 9 November 2013

Death by Bacon

Don’t hate the messenger: according to a study earlier this year, death by bacon may be a real possibility. A study published in the journal BMC Medicine of 448,568 people found that eating processed foods like bacon, sausage, ham, and other processed meats increases the risk of dying prematurely. The massive long-term study followed people in 10 European countries for 12.7 years.
After adjusting for smoking, inactivity, other dietary factors, and other lifestyle factors, researchers concluded that, “significant associations with processed meat intake were observed for cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and ‘other causes of death.’”

Thursday, 7 November 2013

What Chocolate Can Do For You

By Jena Pincott
Katharine Hepburn reportedly said of herself, "What you see before you, my friend, is the result of a lifetime of chocolate.” Inspired, we broke that down into hours, weeks, months and years. Here’s what a fix can do….
Within 90 minutes…your neurons are humming.
One way in which scientists test for alertness and mental stamina is by asking their subjects to do math in their head -- counting down by 3s and 7s, for instance -- tasks so tedious they’re prescribed for insomnia. But 90 minutes after people drank cocoa, they rattled off correct numbers, found a study at the U.K.’s Northumbria University. Credit goes to flavanol, a plant antioxidant that has been found to widen blood vessels and increase blood flow in the brain. How much flavanol you get depends on origin, harvesting and processing, says one of the study's authors, Crystal Haskell-Ramsay, PhD. The most flavanol-rich options are usually the darkest and bitterest, like cocoa powder and baking chocolate. To match the study’s cognitive sweet spot, she says, we’d need roughly 7 grams of special, enriched high-flavanol cocoa powder or a 3.5-ounce chocolate bar with at least 70-percent-cocoa content. (The cocoa powder in the study was CocoaPro; it's in CocoaVia and Dove Dark Chocolate products.)
Within two and a half hours…you can resist a pizza buffet. 
Even if Mario Batali invites you to dinner tonight, you might be surprised by your own restraint. About 2.5 hours after eating 70-percent-cocoa chocolate (a 3.5-ounce bar), volunteers at the University of Copenhagen consumed 17 percent fewer caloriesat an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet than if they had eaten milk chocolate earlier on. Sweet, salty or fatty foods just didn’t have the same draw, they said. Other research confirms: Dark chocolate—perhaps because it’s so intense -- decreases levels of the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin and is more filling. And here’s the surprise: Even the smell of it made people less hungry.
Within three hours…it’ll start to protect your heart. 
This is when cocoa begins working like a class of hypertension drugs called ACE (angiotensin-converting enzyme) inhibitors, found researchers at Sweden’s Link√∂ping University. The dose: about 2.6 ounces of unsweetened 72-percent-cocoa dark chocolate, which decreased the blood-pressure regulating enzyme (ACE) by 18 percent in three hours. Other research found that by the two-month mark, a daily dose of high-flavanol chocolate led to a drop of 2-to-3 mm Hg in blood pressure, which may translate to an 8 percent lower risk of stroke. While no cardiologist is (yet) prescribing chocolate in lieu of pharmaceuticals, research is ongoing. Chances are, patient compliance would be high.
After two weeks…your gut feelings start to change. 
People who call themselves “high-anxiety” types experienced a dramatic shift at this point, found a study published in the Journal of Proteome Research. Before they started eating dark chocolate (about 1.5 ounces) daily, their urine and blood samples showed high levels of stress hormones. After two weeks on the regimen, those hormones dropped significantly. The scientists also noted changes in gut-bacteria metabolism, which suggests that microbes in the colon got better at processing -- and maximizing the benefits of –- flavanol and other healthy polyphenols. Flavanol is also a known prebiotic; it supports the “good guy” bacteria like Lactobacillus that you’d get if you ate that other “soothe-food”: yogurt.)
After one month…hard-earned benefits are rolling in. 
Great news for those with the steely discipline to eat chocolate every day, all month. By now, your ratio of “good” (HDL) to “bad” (LDL) cholesterol may have improved,as it did in volunteers who ate about 2.6 ounces of either dark or high-flavanol chocolate every day. The benefits may be cumulative, helping to prevent old-lady haze in the first place: People in their seventies who say they habitually eat some chocolate each week (along with polyphenol-rich wine and tea) scored significantly higher on cognition tests than abstainers. And, after a month of high-flavanol cocoa (we’re talking 500 mg of flavanols a day, no less; which is in 7 grams of high-flavanol cocoa powder or a 3.5-ounce bar of intensely dark chocolate), subjects reported feeling significantly more serene.
After two and a half months…no one knows you eat like a teenager.
At this point, you might scarf down hamburgers and cheesecake every day -- yet have less inflammation and a lower insulin level than expected. Cocoa-eating mice seem to, at least. When they ate the human equivalent of 10 tablespoons of (low-sugar, low-fat) cocoa powder daily, their insulin levels dropped to almost one-third less than that of non-cocoa-eating mice on the same fatty diet. That’s almost as low as that of mice on a low-fat diet. And they lost -- lost! -- weight to boot. One theory: Prebiotic flavanols in cocoa may improve the gut barrier, thereby preventing endotoxin, a junk-food-thriving bacterium, from leaking outside the digestive system and triggering the inflammation and insulin resistance that precede obesity and type-2 diabetes. (The researchers think humans will benefit similarly; stay tuned.)
After three months…your skin looks 13 years younger (without fillers). 
Okay, maybe not a decade younger, but at least it may be suppler, smoother and plumper -- found a German study that compared women’s skin on and off a high-flavanol cocoa regimen. For those who drank a high-flavanol (329 mg) cocoa drink (comparable to most of a 3.5-ounce, 70-percent-cocoa chocolate bar) every morning for 12 weeks, the rate of blood flow to the epidermis doubled compared with a low-flavanol group. As a result, their skin became, on average, 16 percent denser, 11 percent thicker, 13 percent moister and 42 percent less scaly than before the experiment. Plus, it was 25 percent more resistant to the skin-reddening effects of UV rays -- comparable to a mild sunscreen. There they are again, flavanols and other antioxidants saving our hides.
After a year…you may feel thinner. 
Chocolate poses an intriguing paradox, found researchers at the University of California at San Diego. Of the 1,000 adults they followed, those who regularly ate the stuff more than twice a week turned out to be slightly thinner than those who ate it less frequently. And, no, they weren’t exercising more. The mystery may be explained by rodent studies in which cocoa’s flavanols subtly retuned metabolism and increased sensitivity to insulin -- resulting in the seemingly impossible: exercise-free, diet-free weight loss. But before you go hog-wild, note that the chocolate lovers didn’t necessarily eat chocolate every day or very much in a serving. It’s an energy-dense food, says Haskell-Ramsay—especially when sugar is added. To prevent your habit from leading to weight gain, she recommends making sure that the chocolate is consumed in place of -- rather than in addition to& -- something else.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Mediterranean diet linked to longer lifespan and better health

New research suggests that middle-aged women who follow a Mediterranean diet or similar may increase their lifespan and avoid physical or cognitive impairments and chronic illnesses in older age. This is according to study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
The Mediterranean diet follows the eating habits of people living in Crete, many parts of Greece and Southern Italy.