Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Coffee - is it good for you?

There's nothing like a fresh brewed pot of coffee in the morning. And by 8am if I haven't had a cup, caffeine withdraw headaches set in...this worries me. Is this pick-me-up bad for me?

"Overall, the research shows that coffee is far more healthful than it is harmful," says Tomas DePaulis, PhD, research scientist at Vanderbilt University's Institute for Coffee Studies, which conducts its own medical research and tracks coffee studies from around the world. "For most people, very little bad comes from drinking it, but a lot of good."

Reduce your risk of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's
  • At least six studies indicate that people who drink coffee on a regular basis are up to 80% less likely to develop Parkinson's, with three showing the more they drink, the lower the risk. Several studies comparing moderate coffee drinkers (defined as 3-5 cups per day) with light coffee drinkers (defined as 0-2 cups per day) found that those who drank more coffee were significantly less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease later in life. A longitudinal study in 2009 found that moderate coffee drinkers had reduced risk of developing dementia in addition to Alzheimer's disease.
Reduce your risk of Diabetes
  • After analyzing data on 126,000 people for as long as 18 years, Harvard researchers calculate that compared with not partaking in America's favorite morning drink, downing one to three cups of caffeinated coffee daily can reduce diabetes risk by single digits.
Improves Cognitive Performance
  • In tests of simple reaction time, verbal memory and reasoning, participants who regularly drank coffee were found to perform better on all tests, with a positive relationship between test scores and the amount of coffee regularly drunk. Elderly participants were found to have the largest effect associated with regular coffee drinking.
  • Recent research has uncovered additional stimulating effects of coffee which are not related to its caffeine content. Coffee contains an as yet unknown chemical agent which stimulates the production of cortisone and adrenaline, two stimulating hormones.

Other research shows that compared to not drinking coffee, at least two cups daily can translate to a 25% reduced risk of colon cancer, an 80% drop in liver cirrhosis risk, and nearly half the risk of gallstones.

What's the down side?

Increased Risk of Osteoporosis

  • Because excess coffee consumption may prevent the full absorption of necessary minerals, it increases the risk of developing osteoporosis. A study of nearly 1000 postmenopausal women found that long-term consumption of 2 or more cups of caffeinated coffee per day was associated with decreased bone density, regardless of age, alcohol and tobacco consumption, hormone use, and other factors. However, there are indications that these negative effects can be mitigated by adding milk.

Weight Gain

  • Caffeine increases the risk of long-term weight gain by increasing stress hormones and creating a greater risk for hypoglycemia, which stimulates appetite. Although caffeine can assist with short-term weight loss, in the longer term, heavy consumption is more likely to lead to weight gain. I've definitely experienced stronger appetite after drinking lots of coffee. Also, studies have indicated that green tea may be better for maintaining healthy weight.
All in all, I'd say that my one cup a day isn't a big enough health risk, but I'll probably stick with just one cup...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Can spices make hamburgers healthier?

There's a really interesting study at UCLA that I want to reveal. Researchers added polyphenol-rich spices to burgers during grilling to see if their antioxidant content may reduce the content of compounds linked to heart disease and possible cancer. The study taps into the promotion of the antioxidant-activity of spices. Herbs and spices often come out on top when scientists measure the antioxidant activity of common foods. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Vol. 84, pp. 95-135) published in 2006 stated that the top 5 highest antioxidant content foods were indeed spices - cloves, oregano leaf, ginger, turmeric and cinnamon.

In this study, 11 healthy volunteers consumed either burgers seasoned with a spice blend, or a plain burger in a randomised manner. Malondialdehyde (MDA) in the burger, and in the urine and blood of the participants was used to measure the degree of lipid oxidation. Levels of MDA were reduced by 71 per cent in the spiced burger, compared with the plain burger, and this was associated with a 49 per cent reduction in urine levels of MDA following consumption of the spiced burger, compared with the plain burger. “This study showed that spices that are rich in antioxidants may be useful when cooking meat products to reduce the formation of lipid-peroxidation products,” wrote researchers at UCLA's Center for Human Nutrition.

Adding spices to foods is not only a great way to increase your enjoyment of foods, but it's a secret defense to protect your body as well. Here are some secrets to leverage the superpower of spices:

  1. Add some cinnamon to your oatmeal or even brownies.
  2. Consider baking ginger snaps (loaded with ginger, cinnamon and even a dash of turmeric) instead of chocolate chip cookies
  3. Spice up your fish with seseame and ginger; paprika and curry on your chicken and cinnamon to your pork.
  4. Try making up your own salad dressing with ginger, sesame, soy, turmeric and olive oil.
  5. Spice up your veggies with some chili powder.
  6. Sprinkle a little cinnamon on your apples

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Loneliness and Laughter Affects Your Health

While the emphasis of our blog is about nutrition, we are all about giving people the information they need to thrive in life. I'm deviating from nutrition tonight to discuss some really interesting findings that have important implications for us and those we love.

Emotions affect your health...period! Emotions drive biochemical responses in our body and these biochemical responses can either benefit or detriment our health. I want to discuss 2 emotional states that we don't often hear much about - loneliness and laughter.

Researchers at the University of Chicago found that loneliness can raise your blood pressure. University of Chicago researchers recently studied 229 people between the ages of 50 to 68 and discovered blood pressure appears to rise after four years of loneliness. The study shows, for the first time, a direct relation between loneliness and increases in blood pressure — a link that is independent of age and other factors that could cause blood pressure to rise, including body-mass index, smoking, alcohol use and demographic differences such as race and income. Even people with modest levels of loneliness were impacted. The researchers also looked at the possibility thatdepression and stress might account for the increase but found that those factors did not fully explain the increase in blood pressure. High blood pressure, often called a silent threat as it has few symptoms, undermines health in many ways. It increases the risk for heart attack and stroke and impairs kidney function. Like blood pressure, loneliness is sometimes not easy to detect. People who have many friends and a social network can feel lonely if they find their relationships unsatisfying.

One suggestion: Reconnect with the people from your past that you experienced unconditional friendship, acceptance and love. True friends can kindle smiles fand joy rom past memories. These are often the people who know you best and bring out the best in you...they help you thrive.

Laughter is good for your health in 3 ways.
1. Laughter reduces stress hormones. Laughter reduces the level of stress hormones like costisol, epinephrine (adenaline), dopamine and growth hormone. It also increases the level of health-enhancing hormones like endorphins, and neurotransmitters.

2. Laughter boost your immunity. Laughter increases the number of antibody-producing cells and enhances the effectiveness of T cells. All this means a stronger immune system, as well as fewer physical effects of stress. Laughter relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.

3. Laughter protects the heart. Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems. One study of 19 people with diabetes looked at the effects of laughter on blood sugar levels. After eating, the group attended a tedious lecture. On the next day, the group ate the same meal and then watched a comedy. After the comedy, the group had lower blood sugar levels than they did after the lecture.

Find laughter and joy in your everyday life. Watch a funny movie. Do something silly with your kids or someone you love. Even at work - professional life can get so serious - bring some levity to the office. Not only will your coworkers appreciate it, they also might be little bit healthier for it.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Honey - Better than most Antimicrobials and Cough Medicines!

Honey has been known for its therapeutic uses for thousands of years. It has antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and wound healing properties. Honey contains some hydrogen peroxide, and its content of small amounts of micronutrients, polyphenolics and flavonoids contributes to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.

In a South African study, honey was just as effective in healing wounds as a conventional wound healing gel, but cost 25X less. In a Malaysian study, honey was found to be just as effective as more conventional iodine dressings in treating type 2 diabetic foot ulcers.

A new German study found honey to have a much lower glycemic index than a sugar equivalent. In fact, honey has been used to reduce body weight, glucose handling, blood lipids and other metabolic outcomes.

What's really interesting is honey as an effective cough medicine. A recent US trial found honey to be better than conventional cough suppressant (dextramethorphan) in every measure - cough frequency, cough severity, sleep quality and overall symptoms. My four-year old daughter had a nasty cough for over two weeks and the nurse surprisingly recommended honey instead of conventional suppressants because of her age. It worked like a charm for up to 4 hours.

Look for honey as a healthier sugar substitute on packaged foods labels. Most manufacturers don't use honey because it's very expensive compared to sugar. All of our products (human and dog) use honey as a sweetener (www.thrivefoods.net) because it's considered a superfood by nutritionists.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Can Optimism Boost the Immune System?

Can a positive outlook affect your biochemical immune response? Scientists at the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville think so. They conducted an experiment with law students. The 124 students were studied over six months. They were injected with a material that summons an immune response on the skin - the specific immune response responsible for fighting viral and bacterial infections.

As students' positive and negative expectations soared and dipped, their immune system followed along. At more optimistic times, they'd have a bigger immune response; at a more pessimistic time, a more sluggish immune response. They immune response didn't work on the students' general outlook on life, but rather on a specific facet of their life/day.

So being optimistic in a specific domain of your life may promote better immunity against infections. There is a biochemical basis as scientists at the University of California-Berkeley found that stress increases the hormone cortisol and cortisol directly suppresses the immune system.

Life circumstances, the media, family tassles - there are so many things that can stall us from optimism. But optimism in any circumstance can be learned. Find ways to look at countering negative thoughts with gratefulness, forgivefulness, grace, prayer and service to others. It will not only win over hearts and minds, it may just keep you healthier.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Wheat Germ - Don't Miss Out on this Nutritional Standout!

People always get a little spooked when they hear about a 'germ,' but don't passover wheat germ - it's a nutritional standout. If you have never tried wheat germ, it's best toasted. It has a nutty flavor that is slightly sweet.

The nomenclature of the germ is derived from the term 'germination' which makes it evident that it is this germ is the fetus which will mature to become the next plant. The germ contributes to only 2.5% of the weightage of the wheat grain and is extremely nutritive. Unfortunately, during the manufacturing process of the wheat, the germ is disposed off and thus we do not get to reap the benefits from the most nutritious part of the entire grain. It's one of the best sources of folic acid. Folic acid reduces a compound in your body called homocysteine. Lower levels of homocysteine have been linked to reducing the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis bone fractures, and dementia. Wheat germ also contains a phytonutrient called L-ergothioneine, which is a powerful antioxidant that is not destroyed by cooking. The fiber boost you get from wheat germ is phenomenal.

  • A cupful of toasted wheat germ flakes,mildly sweet and nutty flavored, has about 7.48 g of polyunsaturated and 1.695 g of monounsaturated fats. These fats are required by the body as they nurture the skin and they are cardio-protective fats.
  • It does contain about 2% and 11% of the daily value of vitamin A and C respectively. But what makes it remarkable is its richness in the variant B vitamin forms - thiamine or vitamin B1 (126%), riboflavin (55%), pyridoxine or vitamin B6 (55%), niacin (32%), folates and pantothenic acid (16%).
  • It has high vitamin E contents which aids neutralization of free radicals in the body being an antioxidant.
  • Wheat germ is a storehouse of minerals - phosphorus (129%), zinc (126%), magnesium (90%), iron (57%), copper (35%), 1070 mg of potassium (31%), calcium (5%) and some 5 mg of sodium.
  • Even selenium which battles the risk of cancer thrown up by potent carcinogens consumed by the body is also found in wheat germ.
  • Wheat germ is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acid which cannot be generated by the body itself and thus has to be provided to the body from outside sources. These alpha-linolenic acids are very essential for blood pressure regulation, sharpened brain function and good heart health.

Wheat germs is a nutritional powerhouse. Here are top ways to sprinkle wheat germ into your diet:

  1. Put some on your cereal or oatmeal
  2. Load some into a smoothie
  3. Disguise them in pancakes, muffins or even brownies
  4. Launch a dash as a potatoe topping
  5. Put some onto your ice cream as a nutty topping

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Nature's Instincts on Nutrition

It's becoming common to think about the food we eat differently - for its nutritional value rather than just satisfaction/indulgence. The body of evidence is continuing to grow proving the significant health benefits of superior nutrition. But it can be a humble reminder to note that Nature has been following the path we are just starting on for generations.

Two University of Rhode Island scientists believe that birds choose certain berries because they offer protection against oxidative stress that occurs during long flights. Oxidative stress can lead to inflammation and a variety of diseases in birds and humans. "We're suggesting that birds choose deeply colored berry fruits in part because of their anti-oxidant properties," stated by researchers at Iowa State University. Most of the migratory birds ate berry fruits even though they usually eat insects or seeds at other times of the year. The research indicates that birds prefer to eat certain fruits that have more antioxidants and key nutrients, even choosing the highest antioxidant berry varieties on the island over others.

Pretty cool. If we want to know what's healthy to eat, just watch some animals - seeds, berries, nuts, grains, fruits and veggies.

Want to boost your antioxidants, then try putting a handful of berries or dark cherries into your smoothie, on your cereal or with a handful of nuts as a mid-day snack.