Their genomes (the microbiome) endow us with physiologic capacities that we have not had to evolve on our own and thus are both a manifestation of who we are genetically and metabolically, and a reflection of our state of well-being. - Extending Our View of Self: the Human Gut Microbiome Initiative (HGMI)
Microbes are everywhere: in the soil, in the water, in the air. They’re also in and on our bodies and in fact outnumber our own cells by about 10 to 1! Under our armpits, in between our toes, in our mouth, urogenital tract, and in our intestines…microbes like bacteria and fungi have a bad rap for causing food poisoning, body odor and infections, but let’s put those unpleasantries aside and talk about the incredible microbes living inside our gastrointestinal system that are inexplicably connected to our health and well-being.
The human gut microbiome is estimated to consist of at least 10 trillion bacteria and archaea composed of about 1,100 prevalent species, with up to 400 species per individual. The gut microbial community has been called a “forgotten organ” with collective activity equal to organs as we know them. They interact primarily along our mucous membranes (skin that lines and protects the inside of our body: the inside of our nose and our urogenital, respiratory and digestive tracts), and one of their largest playgrounds is our digestive tract. In fact, cell densities in our colon are the highest recorded for any known ecosystem.
While the details of how these microbes interact with our body are still incompletely understood and under the microscope, research is beginning to reveal how much they influence our digestion, metabolism, immune system, and even our mental health. Since our gastrointestinal friends cannot be cultured in the lab, much of the research that tells us how integral they are is done by comparing life with and without them. For example, microbe‐free animals are more susceptible to infection, have reduced digestive enzyme activity, increased inflammation and require a greater caloric intake to sustain a normal body weight.
To cut a long story short, the gut microbiome:
This topic has consumed me the past few weeks and it’s taken much restraint to limit my research and ranting….The take-home point I want to share in this article is that our gut's microbiome is fantastically amazing and mysterious and its health ultimately affects our health….it’s a part of our body that we need to maintain harmony with. Now…how to do that? Well, below are some of the ways I've found through research. Of course this is not exhaustive as I am imperfect and the research is still underway. How do you maintain the health of your microbiome?
Prebiotics & Probiotics
Pre and Probiotocs have been getting a lot of publicity as of late and for good reason. I think of taking probiotics as the equivalent of restocking a pond with fish. Taking prebiotics, by contrast, is like nourishing and supporting the fish that are already in the pond.
Probiotics are considered “good” bacteria, often found in live or cultured foods like foods like yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, sauerkraut, kimchi and other fermented and pickled versions of veggies, sourdough bread, miso (fermented barley or soy or rice), tempeh (fermented soy), and kombucha.
Although more research is needed, some well-established effects of probiotics include:
Prebiotics are basically the foods that nourish our microbiome. I've already shared that I am all about fiber. Of the many reasons to love fiber is that it feeds our microbes! Unlike food rich in sugar and refined carbohydrates that break down in the small intestine, dietary fibers remain relatively intact all the way through the large intestine, providing a smorgasbord for our friendly microorganisms. A they feed, they, in turn, give off nutrients that nourish the cells that line our guts. Foods with prebiotics include chicory root, raw garlic, leeks, and onions, whole grains, fruits and vegetables and legumes.
Prebiotics have been shown to:
Say no to artificial sweeteners
Consumption of artificial sweeteners (saccharin, sucralose and aspartame) is considered safe, but emerging data should make us think again. Beyond their connection to weight gain (I will address this fascinating research in an upcoming post) a new study has found that that after 11 weeks, mice fed artificial sweeteners displayed glucose intolerance, a marker of risk for prediabetes and other metabolic disorders. This occurred via changes in the composition and function of the microbiome. In addition, preliminary data from the Personalized Nutrition Project has found that heavy consumers of artificial sweeteners have slightly elevated HbA1C levels (a long-term measure of blood sugar) compared with people who rarely or never consumed artificial sweeteners. I predict that this debate will intensify in the near future. Between now and then, let’s mitigate harm to our friendly gut microbiome and say no to diet beverages and avoid those colored packets when sweetening our coffee and tea. Also, read the ingredient list on your foods as they may be lurking in your gum, yogurt, flavored water, protein shakes, and powders, and cereal! More on controlling sugar cravings in blog posts to come.
Be smart about antibiotic use
Antibiotics deserve kudos for improving our health outcomes in the 20th century, but their usage also incurs risk. Beyond the rampant antibiotic resistance hurting our health care system at present, antibiotic use also hurts our gut’s microbiome. Unable to treat viral infections like the common cold or flu, antibiotics are commonly prescribed for bacterial infractions like skin, ear and bladder infections. They work by killing bacteria indiscriminately throughout the body. If you have an ear infection, for example, the antibiotic you take kills the good bacteria along with those causing you pain. Subsequently, you heal quickly but often incur antibiotic- associated disorders like inflammatory bowel disease, diarrhea and/or yeast infections.
There is a current push for doctors to hold back on prescribing antibiotics and instead inspiring patients to manage symptoms with pain and fever reducers (like (Tylenol, Aspirin, and Ibuprofen) and decongestants. Talk with your doctor when battling an infection and learn about your options.
It is becoming increasingly clear that our gut’s microbiome plays an important role in our health. An imbalanced microbiome can lead to the development of allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, diabetes…even cancer. All that being said, there doesn’t seem to be the “ideal” microbiome. Just as the ecosystems of forests, grasslands and coral reefs differ from place to place, so it is with microbiomes. Let’s keep our ears perked to the imminent research and recommendations and in the meantime, nourish our forgotten organ.
A fascinating side note is how we develop our microbiome. Its establishment begins immediately after birth and is influenced by the mode of delivery, infant diet (breast feeding is food for the microbiome too!), and medication. Babies born by Caesarean, a comparatively sterile procedure compared to a vaginal birth, do not acquire their mother’s microbes at birth. Their initial gut communities more closely resemble that of their mother’s (and father’s) skin, which is less than ideal and may account for higher rates of allergy, asthma and autoimmune problems in C-section babies. This is important to consider as rates of C-sections are up 50% since the mid 90’s with more than 1 in 3 infants being delivered by c-section in the U.S. For C-section deliveries research shows that infants being exposed to the vaginal microbiome of their mothers partially restores normal microbial colonization patterns to resemble vaginally delivered infants.
Earlier this week I attended a speech by Dr. Robert Lustig. He’s a pediatric neuroendocronologist (studying how our metabolic hormones affect our brains), author, researcher and speaker who is spreading the word about our broken food system and all the scientific evidence that shows how eating too much added sugar is linked to diabetes, heart disease and liver disease.
I left the event excited and inspired by all I learned and impressed with his ability to transform complicated scientific and technical information into a form a general audience could relate to and understand. Concepts he was really hitting hard were the dangers of fructose and its role in fatty liver disease and cognitive decline (more on this in a later post) as well as the danger of visceral adipose fat (or the fat around our liver and abdominal organs). According to Lustig its our waist, not our weight, that matters.
It has long been recognized that our body mass index (BMI) can predict our likelihood of morbidity (illness) and mortality (death). The higher our BMI, the more at risk we are for numerous chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. However, more and more science is revealing that it’s where our fat is stored that makes the difference. This is where waist circumference comes into the picture, since the fat surrounding our liver and other abdominal organs, aka visceral abdominal fat, is very metabolically active. It releases fatty acids, inflammatory agents, and hormones that ultimately lead to higher LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, blood glucose, and blood pressure. Its associated with cardiovascular and metabolic disorders including insulin resistance, chronic inflammation, type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, hypertension and several cancers.
Lustig's take home message was that being “thin” is not a safeguard against metabolic syndrome. I can be as tall and weigh the same as my best friend and therefore have the same BMI, but if I store my weight in my abdomen and she in her hips I am most at risk. So where do we go from here? Well, let’s get to know our numbers! Diagnosis of metabolic dysfunction includes measurements of cholesterol, triglycerides, fasting glucose, blood pressure and waist circumference*. For your best health, your waist should measure no more than 102 cm (40 in) in men and 88 cm (35 in) in women. A lower waist circumference cutpoint (eg, 90 cm [35 inches] in men and 80 cm [31 inches] in women) appears to be appropriate for Asian Americans.
Look forward to more posts on this topic and changes we can make help our belts cinch a little tighter. If you’re interested in learning more about Dr. Lustig’s research, here’s the link to his YouTube video that went viral a few years back. He was also interviewed in the amazing documentary that was recently released called Fed Up. And he’s in a current PBS series now called Sweet Revenge. He and his team at UCSF also created an awesome website sugarscience.org that has a resource kit and tons of user-friendly info. Spread the word!!
* To measure your waist circumference start at the top of your hip bone, then bring the tape measure all the way around, level with your belly button. Make sure it's not too tight and that it's straight. Don't hold your breath while measuring.
The holidays are here and food, treats and parties abound. The period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is often tough for those of us trying to maintain or lose weight, but I am hoping to share a few tips to help you Maintain No Gain this holiday season!
Maintaining our weight during the holidays is a vital step to curb our risk for obesity since studies show that the weight gained during the holidays is rarely lost. How much weight do we gain on average, anyhow? According to one study it ranges between 0.8 to 3.5 pounds with a net gain of just over 1 pound accounting for post-holiday weight loss. Another study found a similar 1 pound weight gain on average, however, weight gain was greater among individuals who were overweight or obese, and 14% gained >5 lbs. Whether its 1 or 5, imagine yourself 10 Thanksgivings from now – if we don’t make an effort to Maintain No Gain we’ll be 10 to 50 pounds heavier if in fact we don't maintain or shed those holiday pounds!
Maintaining our weight during the holidays does not mean we have to forgo holiday parties or deprive ourselves of our favorite dishes. It just means that we have to have a plan. My proposed plan is three-fold, taking into account our eating habits, activity and our stress management techniques.
We eat to connect, to share love, to celebrate…to live! With mindfulness and strategy we can have our cake and eat it too as they say.
Eat mindfully - Perform an internal check-in and gauge how hungry (or hangry!) you are. Listen to your body’s natural intuition and eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. Better yet, stop at 80%. In Japanese there is a word for this: hara hachi bu! Pay attention to what you’re eating, chew more and slooww down…you know it takes about 20 minutes for our stomachs and all those hormones to communicate to our brains that we’re full, right?
Bring your own dish - Unless you have a favorite holiday dessert that you can’t bear not to make, bring a healthy salad, roasted vegetable side dish or fruit-based dessert to the party!
Start with soup or salad - Studies have shown that you eat less during a single sitting if you start the meal off with a water-based soup or a green salad. It’s all about that Volume!
Sit away from the buffet table! - Sitting or standing near food increases our propensity to eat.
Select a smaller plate or bowl - Larger plates can make a serving of food appear smaller, and smaller plates can lead us to misjudge that very same quantity of food as being significantly larger. For example, one study showed how those who were given larger bowls served and consumed 16% more cereal than those given smaller bowls.
Watch what you drink - Yes, you should watch your liquid calorie intake, but also beware of alcohol’s power to lower your inhibitions and disregard your hunger/fullness signals.
Research before you eat out - Find the menu online and do research beforehand! Find the broiled, grilled and baked entrees, ask for condiments and dressing on the side. Don’t be shy and ask the waiter if entrees can be made with less oil. Try to pass up the bread and chips and remember to hydrate! Hunger is often confused for thirst.
Just say "No" – From that coworker to the Betty Crocker encouraging you to clean your plate or take a to-go container of sweets, just say “No” (well, preferably “No, thank you.”). Culturally it may be hard, but when you are advocating for your health they should understand. Also, just because it's on your plate or in your hand doesn't mean you have to eat it.
Even following all of the aforementioned eating advice, it’s still likely that we will overindulge and do it more frequently in the 6 weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. That is why maintaining an active (and even more active…) life during the holidays should be another part of our game plan. Exercise burns calories – and when we’re consuming more than we need, we've gotta burn ‘em off or we will become that statistic and gain those 1 to 5 holiday pounds.
Incorporate fitness into your celebrations – Can you inspire a post-meal walk (or “D” aka Digestion walk) after your family meal? What about a weekend hike, Zumba video or flag football game? The holidays don’t have to be spent sitting around the table 24/7. Spice it up! Hit up the ice rink, pool or gym if you have some saved up passes to share.
Sign up for a holiday Fitness event – there are tons of Turkey Trots to choose from. Sign up for a 5K walk or run and be a healthy role model for your family. Signing up for a race is also a great motivator as you have your event in sight and are motivated to train for it. What other fitness events are in your neighborhood or local gym? Maybe create a challenge organically with your friends and neighbors!
Put on your pedometer! - Did you know that those who wear pedometers walk 2,000 more steps/day than those who don’t? And speaking of steps…have your and your family’s goal be 10,000 steps a day! I know you can do it.
Holiday weight gain is more than just the greater availability of delicious food. Holidays can be a time of stress for many, hosting parties, buying gifts, managing difficult reunions and often experiencing loneliness. We eat not only to nourish but to console, distract and to suppress our anxieties. Stress also seems to affect food preferences, increasing our intake of foods high in fat, sugar, or both. A variety of hormones may be to blame (insulin, cortisol, and ghrelin), as they become elevate alongside our elevated stress.
Stick to a budget – finances are often at the root of holiday stress. Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don't try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts. Also, opt for homemade gifts, start family gift exchanges and look for free and cheap holiday options.
Make some time for yourself – The holidays are about giving, but don’t forget to give to yourself! Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm. Perhaps a walk in nature, enjoy a bubble bath (scratch that…there’s a drought upon us!), get a massage, read a book, meditate or practice yoga.
Journal it up - Before turning to the leftover pie to distract yourself from an argument or the stress of a “perfect” holiday, write down your thoughts. Practice creative problem solving and seek advice from friends, rather than comfort from the fridge. Also, don’t forget that those who use an exercise and food journal loose 2x more weight than those who don’t.
Delegate! - Are there some household projects, decorating or shopping trips that you can ask your friends and family to assist with? Foster an atmosphere of teamwork and connection than being the “perfect” hostess.
Think positive - Positive thinking and optimism are key parts of effective stress management regime. Manage and understand your self-talk and practice gratitude! Its easy to scan the world for the negative, but the more you scan for the positive the more good you will see!
Maintain your sleep schedule – Our time off work may give us more opportunities to stay up late and party, but call it quits early enough so that you can get plenty of sleep. Aim for at least seven hours of sleep each night.
Best of luck in your efforts to Maintain No Gain! Please share your go-to weight maintenance techniques and let me know on January 1st if your scale looks familiar to what it looks like tonight! I'll be sure to check in with my progress. Thanks for reading!
I struggle with getting enough sleep during the week and I know I’m not alone. Chronic sleep loss is rampant in today's society. The National Institutes of Health suggests that school-age children need at least 10 hours of sleep daily, teens need 9-10 hours, and adults need 7-8 hours; however, nearly 30% of adults reported an average of 6 hours or less of sleep per day and only 31% of high school students getting at least 8 hours of sleep on an average school night.
Sleep is often sacrificed to watch TV and manage our many responsibilities working, doing chores and homework, child rearing, exercising, etc. However, it may be time to review our priorities and see if we can put sleep more towards the top. We can drink our red bulls and pour that second (third, or fourth) cup of coffee, but lost sleep is nothing to scoff at. Beyond it being related to car crashes and reduced productivity and libido, chronic sleep loss can contribute to a host of health problems:
Weight gain and altered metabolism: Sleep deprivation increases insulin resistance and screws up our concentrations of leptin and ghrelin (two key opposing hormones in appetite regulation), making us more hungry. It also significantly decreases activity in appetite evaluation regions in our brains, making us crave high-calorie foods!
Cardiovascular health: Short sleep has been linked to high blood pressure, an exaggerated inflammatory response, and increased stress hormone levels.
Learning and memory: The quantity and quality of sleep have a profound impact on learning and memory. Research suggests that sleep helps learning and memory through its role in the consolidation of memory and enhancing our ability to focus, which are essential for learning new information.
Immune system: Sleep deprivation alters immune function, including the activity of the body’s killer cells. Keeping up with sleep may also help fight cancer.
Healthy Sleep Advice
If you are having problems sleeping, the National Sleep Foundation suggests the following to improve your sleep:
We’ve all heard the phrase ‘you are what you eat’, but what about when you eat? There is a lot of interesting research that suggests when we eat and how organized we are with our meal schedules can affect our weight.
Let’s start with some research you’ve probably heard of: breakfast. It’s the most important meal of the day many claim, one which helps students perform better in school. Research also shows that skipping breakfast is associated with increased prevalence of obesity. The thought is that skipping breakfast increases hunger throughout the day, making us overeat at our next meal. Data also suggests that eating breakfast helps minimize impulsive snacking. Not everyone is convinced that this is the case, however. Of course what we are eating for breakfast is a more critical factor. For example, a veggie egg scramble on whole wheat toast vs. a grande mocha and maple nut scone from Starbucks, (containing a 770 calories and 59 grams of sugar - almost 15 teaspoons! - together).
What about meal frequency? Is it better to eat frequent, small meals or eat three square meals a day? The jury is still out, but compelling evidence does show that eating multiple, small meals can suppress hunger and overall serum insulin concentrations. This is important news as high insulin levels are associated with obesity and cancer.
One other interesting finding regarding the when is in those of us who eat late at night. Data suggest that the consumption of carbohydrate-rich foods in the late evening increases glycogen levels in our muscles. Unless this stored glycogen is burned as fuel, it will ultimately be stored as fat. Therefore, consumption of late-evening meals with carbohydrate-rich foods may also be related to obesity. In addition, eating late at night also affects the circadian rhythms of the hormones leptin and ghrelin, which affect hunger and satiation (or fullness). Leptin signals satiation thereby decreasing food intake while ghrelin induces hunger, affecting meal initiation. Eating late at night (as well as being sleep deprived) turns leptin down and raises ghrelin up, a bad combination for those trying to manage their weight.
So…perhaps the when isn't the entire story, but being conscious of it can be a powerful tool for weight maintenance. Don’t skip breakfast or other meals and try to eat every 2-4 hours. Take inventory of your eating and sleep habits and focus on meals that keep your blood sugar in balance (and don't forget the power of Sugar Blockers!)
Have you ever watched with envy a child offered ice cream, take a bite or two then push the bowl away? Children are naturally intuitive with their eating, but we lose this skill with age. Cultural and social factors influence how much, when and why we eat, along with our lack of presence. Children are good at intuitive eating because they live in present time. They aren’t thinking about what they ate today or yesterday or what they’ll eat later or even how the cook feels - they’re only focused on eating when they are hungry, what they want to eat now, and the amount of food to satisfy their hunger for that moment.
The Clean Plate Club is an example of not eating intuitively and a new study reveals that adults fall victim more than children, as we would expect. Researchers analyzed almost 1,200 diners in eight countries, including the United States, Canada, France, Taiwan, Korea, Finland, and the Netherlands. Despite differences in gender and geography the study found that adults finish 92 percent of what's on their plates while kids eat just 59 percent. Other highlights from the study revealed that men are more likely than women to trust their bodies to tell them how much to eat. In addition, it was found that intuitive eating was lower among those with a higher BMI and that intuitive eating was associated with fewer disordered eating behaviors.
Are you a member of the Clean Plate Club? Have you lost your ability to listen and respond to your body’s natural hunger and fullness signals? Well, fear not as there is considerable evidence that intuitive eating skills can be learned (or re-learned). Often called "mindful eating” intuitive eating is also an effective weight management strategy and we can start today.
Using smaller plates and bowls is one solution as they "trick" our brain into thinking we've eaten more. But really, mindful eating begins with sitting down at a table with the TV off. Remove all distractions, and focus on your meal. Setting the table and lighting a candle can help as well. Mindful eating involves honoring the sensations of hunger and fullness and giving ourselves permission to eat. When we tell ourselves that we can't or shouldn't have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, binging. We can pause in the middle of a meal and ask ourselves how the food tastes, and what our current fullness level is. Doesn’t food taste 10 times better when you’re hungry anyhow? If we decide that we are no longer hungry, give thanks to Tupperware, to-go boxes, and refrigeration! And remember, it takes up to 20 minutes for our gut to communicate with our brain that we're full, so slow it down a bit :)
Mindful eating also involves honoring our feelings without using food. Food is often used as a crutch when dealing with anxiety, loneliness, boredom, and anger, but food won't fix any of these feelings. It may comfort for the short term, distract or even numb us, but food won't solve the problem. What other activities can we enjoy or how else can we manage these emotions?
We can also encourage mindful eating in the children that we touch. Research tells us that mothers who eat intuitively use less controlling feeding practices with their children and that parental monitoring and restriction of food intake can negatively impact our children’s BMI, emotional eating, and Intuitive Eating Scale scores. The more we as parents and caregivers can trust our own bodies, the more easily we can let children instinctively trust theirs.
The journey towards intuitive eating is a process one engages in overtime. It may even pose more of challenge for those who have a long history of dieting, self-imposed food restrictions, or body image concerns. With time, practice and self-compassion we can all re-learn to eat intuitively and pass this gift to those around us.
Do you practice intuitive eating? What are your experiences and bits of advice that can help us on the path to well-being?
Fiber. It’s one of those nutrients we often hear about, but did you know that most Americans are deficient in it? Public health guidelines from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advise Americans to eat between 20 and 38 grams of fiber a day, but most adults don’t even eat half that much. This post will describe what fiber is, its fabulous health benefits and how we can ramp up our intake. (And I promise you won't grow a sunflower out of your bum!)
Dietary fiber is basically the parts of plant foods that our bodies can't digest or absorb. It passes relatively intact through our stomach, small intestine, colon and out of our body. Fiber is present in all plants that are eaten for food, including fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, lentils and peas. Though there are many types of fiber, they are generally categorized as either “soluble” or "insoluble”.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like texture, helping to slow down your digestion and make you feel full. These fibers help lower cholesterol and help regulate blood sugar levels. Soluble fiber is found in oats, lentils, apples, oranges, pears, strawberries, nuts, flaxseeds, beans, dried peas, blueberries, psyllium, cucumbers, celery, and carrots.
Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and adds bulk to your stool and speeds up the passage of food and waste through your gut, helping prevent constipation. It also helps regulate your intestine’s pH. It is found in whole grains such as whole wheat, barley, brown rice and bulgar, nuts and seeds, zucchini, celery, broccoli, cabbage, onions, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, green beans, dark leafy vegetables, raisins, grapes, and root vegetable skins.
Most plant-based foods, such as oatmeal and beans, contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. However, the amount of each type varies in different plant foods. Eating a wide variety of fibers is the ideal solution to gaining all the health benefits.
Benefits of a high-fiber diet:
Ways to boost your intake:
We should get at least 20 grams of fiber a day, but more is better. Slowly adding more fiber to your diet can avoid bloating and gas by giving your body time to adapt. It is also important to drink plenty of liquids while increasing fiber.
Last week I introduced research indicating that the risks of diseases such as type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease are strongly related to the glycemic index (GI) of our overall diet. Typically foods with high GI’s are high in sugar and/or starch (think desserts, white flour, cereals, rice, potatoes). But what can we do to lower a foods impact on our blood sugar if we do choose to eat a cupcake or some potato chips (preferably baked - here's a great recipe I use), which are high-GI foods?
I recently finished reading The Sugar Blockers Diet (thanks for the recommendation Ilana!) and learned about sugar blockers, or ways we can slow the absorption of glucose into our blood stream. These various means to block sugar are powerful since, according to research in the book, reducing the size of after-meal blood sugar spikes by just 30% reduces insulin demands, promotes weight loss, makes diabetes easier to control and can actually reverse prediabetes.
If knowledge is power, here’s to power! Sugar blocking power!
1. Increase particle size: Ways to increase the size of carbohydrates particles that reach your stomach.
Example: Cook your pasta al dente, or slightly undercooked. It will take longer to digest and raise your blood sugar less than if you over cook it. Try it out and let me know how you like it!
2. Stomach barriers: Things you can do to physically impeded the passage of carbohydrates from your stomach to your intestine.
Example: Eat something fibrous (like a salad) before your meal.
3. Intestinal “brakes”: Substances that slow stomach emptying.
Example: Eat a handful of nuts or a piece of cheese before a meal.
4. Enzyme inhibitors: Substances that inhibit enzymes that break down starch into sugar.
Example: Amylase is a digestive enzyme that breaks down starches into smaller carbohydrate molecules. It is secreted by our salivary glands and pancreas. Vinegar inhibits amylase and is thus a sugar blocker. Eat a salad with a vinegar-based dressing to lower your after-meal blood sugar level. Vinegar-based dressings are always a healthy choice over cream-based and they're so easy to make! I make this balsamic vinaigrette often.
5. Sugar sponges: Substances that soak up glucose in your digestive tract.
Example: Foods or supplements high in soluble fiber (found in legumes like beans and peas, oats, seeds and nuts, some vegetables and fruit). I will discuss the different types of fiber in depth in my next post.
6. Liver helpers: Substances that enhance your liver’s ability to take up glucose released into your bloodstream during meals.
Example: Our liver is our second largest organ that performs many essential functions related to digestion, metabolism, immunity, and the storage of nutrients within the body. Alcohol helps the liver take up glucose after you eat, so enjoy a glass of wine or even a shot before your meal. I personally love beer, but it tends to have more carbs than wine or liquor so choose wisely and watch for portion sizes.
7. First-phase simulators: Ways to get the beta cells of our pancreas to secrete insulin sooner rather than later, making it more effective.
Example: Protein triggers the first-phase insulin response, so eat an egg with your toast or meatball with your spaghetti.
8. Insulin sensitizers: Techniques that sensitize your body to insulin so that less is needed to handle the after-meal glucose surge.
Example: Reduced sensitivity to insulin is a major contributor to type 2 diabetes. The one cure for insulin resistance is exercise, so be sure to exercise every 24 to 48 hours. A 20 minute walk is sufficient. Resistance exercises (lifting weights, pushups, pull-ups, etc.) are effective too since the more muscle cells we have the more glucose they absorb.
9. After-meal exercise: Taking advantage of your muscles’ ability to remove sugar from your bloodstream without insulin.
Example: Taking a walk after a meal.
A while back I wrote an article titled Calories In, calories out* that described the balancing act of weight loss. However, there was one caveat: not all calories are created equal. In other words, calories from the different foods/drinks we eat (from fats, carbohydrates and proteins) do not affect our bodies in the same way.
Many foods that contain natural sugars, added sugars, and starch (rice, potatoes, pasta, breads, baked goods) raise our blood sugar. These foods are considered to have a high-glycemic index. Proteins and fats on the other hand do not significantly affect our blood sugar and are considered to have a low-glycemic index.
So why does this matter? Well, research from the Harvard School of Public Health indicate that the risks of diseases such as type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease are strongly related to the glycemic index (GI) of the overall diet. Other studies show that low-GI diets improve our sensitivity to insulin, improve weight loss maintenance, and decrease our levels of LDL (aka “lousy”) cholesterol.
The moral of the story: eating lower glycemic-index foods reduce your risk for heart disease and diabetes and also assist in weight maintenance. I am not touting for the Atkins diet here. I believe that low-GI diets are easier to stick to on a day-to-day basis compared to low-carb diets. Look forward to a later post on helpful recipes and ideas on how to eat the low-GI way in addition to ways to combine foods to lower their impact on our blood sugar. 'Till then here's a link with a list of the GI indexes of 100+ foods.
What are your thoughts on the glycemic index?
To maintain your weight, you have to balance your calories. There is some debate to this calories in, calories out mantra*, but for those new to the land of weight loss and weight maintenance the calorie balance mantra is a great platform to start.
So...calories. We've all heard of them, but what are they? Well, a calorie is a just unit of energy. We tend to associate calories with food, but they apply to anything containing energy. A calorie is the amount of energy, or heat, it takes to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water 1 degree Celsius. We humans need energy to survive -- to breathe, move, pump blood, and think -- and we get this energy from food and beverages. We also burn energy, or calories, during physical activity.
We all come in different shapes and sizes and each person's body burns energy (calories) at different rates, so there isn't one perfect number of calories we should eat. However, the recommended range for most adults is between 1,600 to 2,800 calories per day, depending on your age, sex, and activity level. If you are maintaining your current body weight, you are in caloric balance. If you need to gain weight or to lose weight, you'll need to tip the balance scale in one direction or another to achieve your goal.
If you need to tip the balance scale in the direction of losing weight, keep in mind that 1 pound of body fat is approximately 3,500 calories – so you’ll have to eat that much less or burn that many more through exercise (ideally a combination of both!) to lose 1 pound. To lose about 1 to 2 pounds per week, you'll need to reduce your caloric intake by 500—1000 calories per day.
To learn how many calories you are currently eating, begin by reading your nutrition labels and write down the foods and beverages you consume each day as well as the type and duration of your physical activities (cleaning the house counts!). By writing down what you eat and drink, you are incorporating awareness into your day. As I wrote in a prior post, journaling counts! A recent study revealed that people keeping a food diary six days a week lost about twice as much weight as those who kept food records one day a week or less. In addition, experiment tracking when and where you eat and what emotions you experience to beat emotional eating.
*Is a calorie a calorie regardless of its source ( carbohydrates, fats, sugars, or proteins, etc.)? I will get into this in a future post. Spoiler alert: some researchers believe that not all calories are created equal.
Hello and welcome! My name is Andrea Notch Mayzeles. I am a Certified Health Education Specialist, Mom, and Master of Public Health dedicated to the path of well-being. As a wellness professional I am committed to continued learning and am here to share research, recipes and musings on health, psychology, personal development, and parenting. I hope you enjoy!