Archive | June, 2009

Your Heart on Wonder Bread

28 Jun

For those who still think that dietary fat–particularly saturated fat–causes heart disease, consider the mounting evidence that refined carbohydrates (from grains) and fast-releasing carbohydrates (like white potatoes) can impact the health of your heart by turning its arteries into cement.  A study, recently published in the American College of Cardiology, shows that high carbohydrate foods may reduce the elasticity of arteries, which can cause heart disease, or something a little more unsettling… like sudden death.  Click here to read the report on the study.

So, once again, for the purpose of not only employing an effective and sustainable way to manage body weight, but also to stay alive a little longer to enjoy that nice body (and maybe also enjoy your children and your children’s children and cars that one day will fly and maybe even world peace), eat more wholesome foods like vegetables and fresh fruits and healthy nuts–and less shit crap man-made stuff.

Who Wants to be Normal?

26 Jun

I was looking through one of my old reference books that got interested in sports nutrition and helping people lose weight called The Leanness Lifestyle by David Greenwalt – a motivating book and a good read ( David Greenwalt has helped hundreds of people of various lifestyles lose weight, as well as being a competitive bodybuilder for over 25 years. I would recommend it to anybody interested in losing weight and or preparing for a bodybuilding contest.

On the first page of the book, Greenwalt explains how the Surgeon General of the United States reported that more than 60 percent of the U.S. is overweight or obese. This means that over 100 million people in this country fall into this category. Impressive. Do you think most of the country is impressed? Why or why not? Are you one of them?

One definition of “normal” is “being approximately average or within certain limits.” Well, if 60 percent of the US is overweight or obese, then that would mean to be at a healthy weight is not the norm – in fact, it would mean that being at healthy weight puts you in the minority.

So what would that mean to be a “normal U.S. citizen” with regard to his/her body and health?  David Greenwalt has some in-your-face definitions I would like to share with you with regard to normalcy in America:

  •  Normal is being a man with 25-30 percent body fat. A healthy man will have less than 15 percent body fat.
  • Normal is being a woman with 35-40 percent body fat. A healthy woman will have less than 23 percent.
  • Normal is walking around with a huge Goodyear tire at your equator.
  • Normal is huffing and puffing if you have to walk three flights of stairs. God knows you would never walk them for the heck of it.
  • Normal is earning the right to eat at all the best restaurants  (which of course serve portions big enough for a family of four).
  • Normal is spending five full minutes looking for the closest parking space at your favorite department store because you deserve it.
  • Normal is being embarrassed poolside.
  • Normal is having your kids embarrassed for you.
  • Normal is ordering a Big Mac combo with a Diet Coke because you’re “watching your weight.”
  • Normal is the father who drinks after work with his buddies. Normal is the tension in the house when he comes home half-in-the-bag. Normal is the fear and confusion his children feel when they see their father drunk, feel the tension between the parents, and hear the arguing. Normal is having excessive drinking ruin times that should have been good.
  • Normal is drifting through life without a plan and without any real goals, other than making it through the day.
  • Normal is eating a whole box of Snackwells or an entire bag of Baked Lays potato chips because they are low-fat or fat-free.
  • Normal is going to a buffet and eating as much as humanly possible because you paid for it.
  • Normal is setting up social functions around food and drink.
  • Normal is continuously rewarding your children with food for everything they do well.
  • Normal is not becoming educated and falling for “one-fact diets.”
  • Normal is relying on your body to help you work your butt off in the office and with clients for 12 hours a day, but not making time for exercise and good nutrition for optimal daily performance.
  • Normal is thinking that you must Either work hard at the office Or follow a healthy lifestyle.
  • Normal is going home tired and crashing without taking a moment to tell the people closest to you that you love them and care.
  • Normal is excuses, excuses, excuses.
  • Normal is claiming you are doing better than you were, so isn’t that enough? Good enough almost never is.
  • Normal is using junk “food” to make you “feel” better.
  • Normal is going from one fad diet to another, losing weight, then gaining twice as much back rather than changing your lifestyle.
  • Normal is getting a gym membership, working out for two weeks and giving up because you “just don’t have time.”
  • Normal is looking at others heavier than you and giving yourself a pat on the back for not being as heavy as them, as you eat your doughnut.
  • Normal is having a blood pressure of 145 over 100.
  • Normal is having Type II diabetes for no other reason other than excess body weight.
  • Normal is having joint problems below the waist for one reason – excessive weight.
  • Normal is a total cholesterol of 300+.
  • Normal is preaching the “I’m a victim”-speech versus “I’m a victor.”

As you can see, this is not a pretty picture he has created of American normalcy, but is he wrong? The choice is yours: you can settle for mediocrity or strive for excellence. In his book, David Greenwalt makes one point very clear: you cannot make normalcy your goal and reach your potential. Unfortunately, in this country, our health and fitness level are not normally viewed as a goal worth achieving.

Cruciferous Vegetables: Nutritional Powerhouses

25 Jun

With the growing baby boomer population reaching retirement age at increasing numbers, there is a greater interest in “preventative medicine.” The evidence is steadily growing that, not too surprising, a majority of diseases can be attributed to our diet. In fact, the American Cancer Society puts a number on it. It estimates that more than two-thirds of cancer may be prevented through lifestyle modification, and nearly one-third of these cancer occurrences can be attributed to diet alone.

Scientists have recently drawn more of their attention to a group of vegetables called the cruciferous vegetables that have appeared to show some impressive cancer preventative, cancer-inhibiting and anti-inflammatory results.

They get their name because their four-petal flowers resemble crosses. Cruciferous vegetables include arugula, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, cabbage, watercress, bok choy, turnip greens, mustard greens, collard greens, rutabaga, napa or Chinese cabbage, daikon, wasabi, radishes, turnips, horse radish, kohlrabi, and kale.

Cruciferous vegetables differ from other classes of vegetables in that they are rich sources of sulfur-containing phytonutrients known as glucosinolates (GLS). The science is getting deep investigating these and their abilities.

In order for the beneficial effects of GLS to be unleashed, the cell walls must be disrupted by chewing or cooking, activating an enzyme called myrosinase. The GLS are quickly broken down into the reactive compounds. Various forms of GLS break down into various forms of such chemicals called isothiocyanates, flavones, phenols and indoles. These products, could help prevent cancer by enhancing the elimination of carcinogens before they can damage DNA, or by altering cell signaling pathways in ways that help prevent normal cells from being transformed into cancerous cells. Some GLS products, such as indoles, may alter the metabolism or activity of hormones like estrogen in ways that inhibit the development of hormone-sensitive cancers, such as breast cancer. Each of these breakdown products of GLS has its own protective ability.

Therefore, we should certainly not eat a single kind of cruciferous vegetable and believe that we are getting the true benefits of all of them. Variety is very important. The National Cancer Institute has linked the cruciferous vegetables to a reduced risk of colon cancer and protective effects against cancer of the lung, esophagus, larynx, rectum, colon, lung, stomach, prostate, and bladder.

However, there is another side to this. Unfortunately, this protective benefit against cancer has been determined to be largely dependent on an individual’s genetic makeup. Individuals that lack the gene that metabolizes GSL products, such as isothiocyanates, will result in a greater concentration of isothiocyanates in their blood, resulting in longer exposure after cruciferous vegetable consumption. There are several studies that show this is why some individuals had greater protection from lung cancer and colon cancer. Therefore, some of us may benefit more from cruciferous vegetable ingestion than others; but no matter what, we all will benefit from them at some level.

GLS Content in Cruciferous Vegetables

Unlike some other phytochemicals, GLS are present in relatively high concentrations in commonly consumed portions of cruciferous vegetables. For example, ½ cup of raw broccoli might provide approximately 27 mg of total GLS. On the other hand, ½ cup of raw brussel sprouts contains 104 mg of total GLS.

The amounts of isothiocyanates formed from GLS in foods are variable and depend partly on the processing, age and preparation of those foods. Consumption of 5 or more weekly servings of cruciferous vegetables has been associated with significant reductions in cancer risk in some prospective cohort studies. Glucosinolates are water-soluble compounds that may be leached into cooking water. Boiling cruciferous vegetables from 9-15 minutes will result in a loss of GSL content, up to 58% loss. Cooking methods that use less water, such as steaming or microwaving may reduce GSL losses. So for the sake of retaining GSL content, eating these vegetables raw is best.

Some cooking practices, including boiling, steaming and microwaving at high power (850-900 watts) may inactivate myrosinase, the enzyme that breaks down GLS. Never fear. Without myrosinase, the bacteria in our gut will still break down some of the GSL into a beneficial product. However, inactivation of myrosinase in cruciferous vegetables substantially decreases the concentration of isothiocyanates. Once again, raw is best. Unfortunately, for many, cruciferous vegetables are not as tasty as other vegetables, so people may have a difficult time wanting to eat them, especially in their ideal, raw state. This can be treated with mild amounts of fat-free dressings, dips, cottage cheese or flaxseed oil. Be creative and try to have these regularly in your refrigerator. Healthy eating should not be synonymous with “difficult eating.”

Can I take a Supplement Instead?

Below is a list of other compounds and chemicals not previously mentioned that are naturally found in cruciferous vegetables with a brief description:

Vitamin A – a fat-soluble antioxidant that helps protect skin and proper cell reproduction.

Vitamin C – a water-soluble antioxidant that has a role in connective tissue repair

Vitamin E – a fat-soluble antioxidant that protects cells from damage

Folate – a B-complex vitamin that is involved in proper DNA metabolism

Selenium – a trace mineral involved in selenium-dependent enzyme functions.

Potassium – an electrolyte

Carotenoids – pigments synthesized by plants that may help form vitamin A and act as antioxidants alone. Research is not sure on all of their roles as being anti-carcinogenic.

Chlorophyll – a photosynthetic pigment that may have anti-cancer effects

Fiber – compounds that regulate blood sugar, slow digestion, decrease cardiovascular disease and aids in fat loss.

Flavonoids – plant compounds that are anti-aging and reduce the risk of chronic disease.

Indole-3-Carbinol – may inhibit cancer development in humans, especially reproductive cancers. This still needs further study in humans.

Lignans – may have a role in the prevention of hormone-associated cancers, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular diseases, but it is still not understood.

Phytosterols – inhibit cholesterol absorption and may help urinary functions with a benign, enlarged prostate. As you can see, these vegetables are quite the powerhouses full of nutrients.

No matter what your fitness goals are or if you just want to live a healthy lifestyle, these should be on your plate every day. Because there are so many nutrients in cruciferous vegetables, scientists do not necessarily believe it is only the broken down GSL-products that benefit us, but it may be an interactive effect among several vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that create the cancer-protective environment within us. Further research is still needed to better understand this.

Therefore, taking a supplement of just one of these GSL-products may not be recommended, especially an extract that utilized heat to create its supplement. This may have deactivated myrosinase, or the ingredient itself, leaving the responsibility of the conversion of GSL-products to our gut bacteria. In the end, if your diet is poor, something is better than nothing. Ideally, a wide variety of raw or lightly cooked cruciferous vegetables is just what you should eat.

Summary and Recommendations

Unlike other vegetables, cruciferous vegetables contain a class of a sulfur-compound called glucosinolate. After chewing these and breaking the cell walls, these are broken down by myrosinase into a number of anti-cancer, anti-tumor, and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients. Some of these phytochemicals stop carcinogens before they have a chance to alter DNA structure. Others slow the development or spread of cancerous cells or stimulate the release of anticancer enzymes. Indoles increase the detoxification of estrogen, reducing that hormone’s chance of enhancing cancer growth in hormone-sensitive cells. This is believed to be only the tip of the iceberg for the number of benefits associated with cruciferous vegetables.

Although many organizations, including the National Cancer Institute recommend the consumption of 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, separate recommendations for cruciferous vegetables have not been established. For now, some scientists recommend 5 weekly servings of just cruciferous vegetables alone. Happy eating!

Lactic Acid: Friend of Foe?

25 Jun

The short answer to the title is, it depends on your fitness level.

Lactic acid has been blamed for fatigue, delayed-onset muscle soreness, and cramps. A closer look at the research has shown that this is not the case at all. In fact, once lactate or lactic acid are metabolized, they are actually a preferred fuel source for quick and intense activities that we perform during intense exercise.

Exercise and Lactate
Larger than normal amounts of lactate are produced during the metabolism of glycogen (called glycolysis) primarily when insufficient oxygen is present (i.e. when you are huffing and puffing, trying to catch your breath!). Lactate is constantly being produced by our muscles and organs, but in very small amounts. Here is how it happens:

Glucose enters a cell and gets broken down via several enzymatic steps and electron carriers into pyruvate. One enzyme, lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), can convert pyruvate into lactate in one easy step with or without oxygen. The concentration of oxygen will determine how easily the lactate molecule will be produced into energy. In the presence of oxygen, a lot of lactate can be converted into energy. Without oxygen, lactate may still be converted into energy, but it is more dependable on several other factors (listed below). Because of how energy efficient lactate formation occurs, there is a lot of potential for lactate to be a preferred energy source.

During mild exercise, sufficient oxygen is available to the cells and the rate of lactate removal equals its rate of formation, so that there is no accumulation of lactate. This is dependent upon a number of factors including:
•    the type of muscle fiber that is exercising (more lactate is produced in fast-twitch muscles during intense exercise than slow-twitch muscles)
•    the concentration of monocarboxylate transporters (which play a major role in the regulation of intracellular pH and lactate concentration during intense muscle activity)
•    the concentration and isoform of LDH
•    the overall ability for tissues to create energy from other energy systems, such as the oxidative system.

Contrary to popular belief and older textbooks, lactate is not a toxic byproduct or waste-product of metabolism accelerated by exercise. As mentioned earlier, lactate is produced at rest in a number of organ systems and can serve as a valuable source of energy. When sufficient oxygen becomes available via rest or a decrease in exercise intensity, lactate is reconverted to pyruvate for use as energy. In addition, lactate and pyruvate formed in muscle during exercise can be used to manufacture glucose by a process called gluconeogenesis. This “extra” glucose supplements any existing blood glucose and muscle glycogen.

Lactate and Fatigue
Muscle fatigue is not due to “lactic acid build-up” in a muscle like motor oil in a car. During the formation of lactate (or lactic acid), there is an increase of positively charged hydrogen ions from the breakdown of the energy-producing molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). These electrical charges, which increase the acidity of the blood, can interfere with the muscle contraction process and the efficiency of the enzymes involved in energy production (certain enzymes are more efficient at a better pH).

Lactate is not the cause of muscle soreness, since blood lactate returns to normal within an hour post-exercise. Delayed-onset muscle soreness is caused by the mechanical injury and secondary post-exercise inflammation.

Most muscle cramps, on the other hand, are caused by muscle nervous receptors that become overexcitable with muscle fatigue.

Lactate and the Athlete
Lactate does not accumulate significantly until exercise intensity reaches about 55% of the healthy, untrained subject’s maximum oxidative capacity. The rate of lactate accumulation now exceeds the rate of removal and fatigue is initiated. The intensity of exercise has to be decreased if the activity is to continue. This threshold is called the blood lactate threshold or OBLA (Onset of Blood Lactate Accumulation).

Many tissues, particularly skeletal muscles, continuously produce and use lactate. Blood levels of lactate reflect the balance between lactate production and use. An increase in lactate concentration does not necessarily mean that the lactate production rate was increased. Lactate may increase because of a decreased rate of removal from blood or tissues.

Lactate production is proportional to the amount of carbohydrates broken down for energy in the tissues. Whenever you use carbohydrates, a significant portion is converted to lactate. This lactate is then used in the same tissues as fuel, or it is transported to other tissues via the blood stream and used for energy. Rapid use of carbohydrate for fuel, such as during intense exercise, accelerates lactic acid production. Temporarily, lactic acid builds up in your muscles and blood because it can’t be used as fuel fast enough. However, if you slow down the pace of exercise or stop exercising, the rate of lactate used for energy soon catches up with the rate of lactate production.

Elite level endurance and intermediate-anaerobic athletes are able to perform at such a high intensity level because:
•    Their OBLA occurs at a higher percentage of their aerobic capacity.
•    They can remove lactate more rapidly or convert it more efficiently to glucose.

Proper training programs can speed lactic acid removal from your muscles while exercising. This can be achieved by combining high intensity, interval, and over-distance training.

To improve your capacity to use lactate as a fuel during exercise, you must increase the lactic acid load very high during training. Training with a lot of lactic acid in your system stimulates your body to produce enzymes that speed the use of lactic acid as a fuel.

High-intensity interval training will cause cardiovascular adaptations that increase oxygen delivery to your muscles and tissues. Consequently, you have less need to breakdown carbohydrates to lactate. Also, better circulation helps speed the transport of lactate to tissues that can remove it from the blood.

Because resistance training utilizes carbohydrates primarily as energy, high-intensity resistance training that produces high levels of lactate, such as certain Crossfit programs, are an effective way for you to improve your OBLA, ability to utilize lactate for energy and improve your overall fitness level.

Long-distance or endurance training causes muscular adaptations that speed the rate of lactate removal. Adaptations of endurance training increase the blood supply and the mitochondrial capacity of a trained muscle. Mitochondria are structures within the cells that process fuels, consume oxygen, and produce large amounts of ATP. A larger muscle mitochondrial capacity increases the use of fatty acids as fuel, which decreases lactate formation and speeds its removal.

Thus, many long-distance training programs incorporate different training modalities throughout their overall training program in order to allow the body to develop a better ability slow lactic acid production from carbohydrates and to enhance tissues ability to use lactic acid as fuel.

Lactate is an important fuel for the body during rest and exercise. It is one of our most important energy sources.

In order for you to improve your fitness leve in the shortest amount of time, you must train at a high intensity. This is uncomfortable because it will involve training at a low-oxygen availability. However, this will improve your body’s ability to use lactate as an energy source under strenuous exercising conditions. Therefore, get the most out of your time for exercise with the most benefits by training hard!

What are We Really Craving When We Crave?

10 Jun

Many classify themselves as somebody who craves chocolate, or crunchy-salty foods (such as potato chips and French fries), or both and we classify these as a “carb-craver” or “carb-lover”.

However, it might not be as cut-and-dry as what I thought. A study published in the 2007 December issue of the International Journal of Obesity, stated that people with food cravings want calories, not chocolate, crunchy-salty cravings, or carbs per se. The craved foods do have carbohydrate, but they also contain fat, are low in protein and fiber. The most identifiable thing about the foods people crave is that they are highly dense in calories, almost twice as high as their habitual diet. Fruits and vegetables are carbohydrates, but they are lower in calories per unit volume versus chocolate and salty snacks.

Therefore, the carbohydrate addiction that so many people might believe that they are suffering from may be relabeled as “calorie addiction”. Various diet plans, such as the Zone, Atkins, or The Carb Addicts Diet make various claims of how to rid yourself of these cravings, but perhaps this study is suggesting you can try a certain diet plan, and if the plan does not match your lifestyle, you may still have to make further adjustments.

This was a 6-month study of 32 healthy, overweight women, aged 20-42 years old that were randomly assigned to an energy restricted diet with a high- or low-glycemic load. A high-glycemic load diet is one that will result in a higher amount of blood sugar than a low-glycemic load. Various foods have a glycemic index and it is the amount of a particular food multiplied by its glycemic index that equals its glycemic load.

Participants completed food craving questionnaires assessing the type of foods craved, the frequency and strength of cravings, and how often cravings led to eating the desired food.

Ninety-one per cent of study participants reported having food cravings initially. After 6-months of the eating regimes, ninety-four percent of the participants had food cravings.

The subjects who lost a greater percentage of weight still craved higher energy-dense foods at month 6 of energy restriction, but also reported giving in to food cravings less frequently.

The researchers believe that if individuals understand that they can expect cravings while dieting and that those cravings will be for calorie-dense foods, it might help in their weight management. One thing to do is to substitute foods that taste similar but have fewer calories, since the craving can be satisfied by related tastes.

The authors conclude that cravings for energy-dense foods are common. Although they caution that additional long-term studies are needed to confirm their findings, they write that their results “…suggest that people attempting to lose weight and maintain weight loss may benefit from advice to accept that food cravings may not decrease in frequency.” Controlling the frequency of giving in to cravings, rather than suppressing them, they say, may be an important area of emphasis in future weight control programs.

Therefore, there are strategies available that can curb a person’s appetite and craving. For some these are weekly indulgence meals, in which an individual eats whatever they want for one meal (not one day!). For others, a daily chocolate protein bar is enough to satisfy a chocolate craving. It varies for the individual.