Sleep More, Weigh Less?

I’m a notoriously bad sleeper. I go to bed too late, wake up throughout the night and always bank on catching extra zzz’s on the weekend. Apparently I’m not alone.
 
Twenty eight percent of American adults sleep six or fewer hours per night. What’s more alarming is that partial sleep deprivation has been linked to many chronic conditions, including obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Could years of poor sleeping patterns be affecting my eating habits and health?
 
comfy bedThere is plenty of scientific evidence that associates short sleep duration with weight gain. The more time we spend awake, the more opportunities we have to eat. Add to that a lack of motivation to hit the gym when we’re tired. Partial sleep deprivation may also influence two hormones that affect appetite. The jury’s still out, but many studies have shown that sleep shortage increases ghrelin, which induces hunger, and reduces leptin, thereby lessening satiety.
 
In a study to be published later this year, researchers looked at how eight nights of sleep restriction affected hormone levels and caloric intake in 17 healthy, normal weight adults. Despite no significant changes in leptin and ghrelin, participants limited to sleeping two-thirds their usual duration consumed an average of 566 more calories per day compared with their energy intake under ad lib sleeping conditions.
 
In a separate study of obese adults, participants ate an extra 83 calories per day for every 30-minute reduction in sleep. Therefore, sleeping just one hour less than the recommended 7.5 hours per night could translate into a 17-pound weight gain per year if no compensation occurs!
 
Cutting short a snooze may also negatively affect glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity, although these results are not universally observed. In a 2011 study published in Sleep, 15 healthy, normal weight men had significantly greater peak insulin and glucose responses to breakfast after two nights of sleep restriction (four versus eight hours in bed).
 
More research is needed to clarify how sleep deprivation affects endocrine function, but chronically catching too few winks may create the perfect storm for overconsumption. Of all sedentary activities, sleeping is clearly one with positive health benefits and we should all aim to rest 7 to 8 hours a night!

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Does Zinc Cure the Common Cold?

‘Tis the season for coughing, sneezing and sniffling. Many of us have stocked our medicine cabinets with vitamins, minerals and herbal remedies to ward off or cure these nasty symptoms of the common cold. Zinc supplements are a particularly frequent treatment, because zinc is known to support immune function. But do zinc supplements actually work?

Zinc is thought to halt the replication of rhinoviruses, the most common cause of colds. A recent scientific analysis pooled data from previous studies that compared oral zinc treatments with placebo or no intervention. It was found that zinc had no significant effect on the severity of symptoms experienced, but zinc did shorten the duration of a cold by an average of 2.63 days in adults. Not all zinc formulations are equally effective, however. Only zinc acetate caused a statistically significant reduction in symptom duration. Zinc gluconate and zinc sulfate were not successful.

zinc-lozengesSo if zinc can help kick a cold faster, how much should we take once we feel the beginnings of a sore throat and runny nose? The evidence says to start using zinc within one to two days after the onset of a cold, but researchers have yet to offer an optimal dose. In the analysis mentioned above, subjects took zinc acetate lozenges every 2-3 hours while awake until symptoms resolved. By my own estimations, this provided about 54-104 mg zinc daily.

Remember that more is not always better. Zinc lozenges may cause a bad taste in your mouth or even nausea. Taking too many, or popping mega-dose zinc tablets can be harmful. The safe upper limit of zinc is set at 40 mg daily. Exceeding this amount for an extended period of time can actually decrease immunity and cause low copper levels.

The bottom line?  Zinc may help your body fight the common cold, but if you’re going to load up, do it for a maximum of 7-10 days and be wary of how much zinc you’re ingesting! Read labels and choose supplements or lozenges with zinc acetate (or zincum aceticum) as the main ingredient.

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Stress-Busting Snack Ideas

This Thursday, most Americans will kick off the holiday season with their first bite of Thanksgiving turkey. I personally love this time of year, but long shopping lines and mall crowds can be a total buzzkill. To calm down, try fueling up with my stress-relieving snack ideas, published in the December 2012 issue of Oxygen magazine!

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Filed under Dairy, Heart Healthy Choices, Meal Tips, Media

Smart Snacking: Best Protein Bars

The number of energy and protein bars on the market is astounding. Only a handful, however, should be promoted as satisfying, healthy snacks. The rest? Glorified candy bars. For example, most Clif Bars contain as much sugar as a TWIX Caramel Cookie Bar! Shocked? Me too.

Don’t fall prey to marketing mumbo jumbo. Study nutrition labels and navigate the options with these simple tips:

  1. If you’re looking for an on-the-go snack, choose bars with less than 200 calories. Any more than that and the bar becomes a meal replacement.
  2. To keep hunger at bay the longest, opt for a bar with at least 5 grams of fiber and 10 grams of protein.
  3. Select bars with less than 4-5 grams of sugar to avoid a post-snack drop in blood sugar that could zap your energy.

KIND and LÄRABAR rank among the most natural snack bars, made with the fewest and most recognizable ingredients. But what these brands lost in processing, they unfortunately gained in sugar. On the flip side, many low-sugar products use sugar alcohols (e.g. maltitol, mannitol) to boost flavor without adding calories. Many CarbRite Diet bars contain a whopping 20 grams! Sugar alcohols are not completely absorbed, however, so they may cause bloating, gas and even diarrhea when consumed in large amounts.  You should experiment to know what your body can handle.

My top picks?

  • Quest Bar
  • HealthSmart Foods: Chocolite Protein Bar
  • Atkins Advantage (choose flavors with less saturated fat)
  • NuGo Slim
  • ThinkThin Crunch Bars

Next time you’re on the hunt for a pocket-friendly snack, remember the rules! More fiber. More protein. Less sugar.

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Coconut Water: Nature’s Gatorade?

Happy Summer! I’m hoping the warmer weather inspires more of us to dust off our sneakers and get active! But, considering we’re currently enduring an East coast heat wave, we need to take precaution and rehydrate properly when exercising under the mid-day sun.

A typical workout lasting less than 60 minutes usually only requires you to rehydrate with water. However, with more strenuous exercise (indoor or outdoor), it’s necessary to replace both water and electrolytes that are lost through profuse sweating.

Lately, coconut water has been touted as the ultimate post-workout hydration beverage! Coconut water is naturally packed with potassium, which plays a key role in fluid balance and muscle contraction. However, little potassium is actually lost in sweat. During intense physical activity, sodium becomes the more significant mineral to replenish. While pure coconut water straight from the fruit may contain adequate sodium, the amount of sodium in commercial brands of coconut water is not sufficient to replace what’s been excreted.

Electrolyte replacement beverages or “sports drinks” are specifically formulated for athletes. They contain the right proportions of sodium and carbohydrates for proper rehydration and easy digestion. For example, the carbohydrates (i.e. sugar) in Gatorade help the intestine better absorb sodium and fluids, which fights fatigue and prevents dehydration.

My take? Cool off with coconut water while lounging by the pool or after a light workout. When sweating for longer than 1 hour, choose a sports drink that has approximately 120 mg of sodium per 8 ounces. This will help replenish lost sodium and minimize the risk of cramping.  In addition, beverages containing about 6 grams of carbs per 8 ounces will be most effective in maximizing water absorption in the gut. That said, many sports drinks are made with about 14-16 grams of carbohydrates per cup. This quantity of carbs is unlikely to cause stomach upset and, with more calories, can offer an extra energy boost during a marathon workout.

Coconut Water:

Vita Coco

Coconut Water:

Zico

Gatorade:

Original G

Gatorade:

G2 – low cal

Carbs

14 g

7 g

14 g

5 g

Sodium

28 mg

91 mg

110 mg

110 mg

Potassium

485 mg

325 mg

30 mg

30 mg

 *Nutrient quantities were calculated per 8 oz of each beverage.

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Filed under Fruits and Vegetables, Medical Conditions, Supplements, Vitamins & Minerals

Are Potatoes Good For You?

Happy St. Patty’s Day! In honor of my Irish ancestors who subsisted on potatoes, I’m celebrating this holiday by highlighting the spud’s nutritional benefits. Potatoes are a humble vegetable, often judged by starch load and preparation method, instead of their rich potassium, fiber and antioxidant content!

The typical American diet is low in fruits and vegetables and, therefore, most of us consume only half the daily potassium recommendation (4,700 mg/day). Potassium is a mineral that plays a role in nerve function, muscle contraction and fluid and electrolyte balance. When combined with an effort to curb your sodium intake, high potassium consumption is associated with the prevention and reversal of high blood pressure. Bananas are a famous source of potassium, yet they contain only 50% of the whopping 844 mg of potassium that a baked Russet potato has to offer.

Put down the peeler! One of the healthiest parts of a potato is the skin, which is packed with fiber and antioxidants. The skin of a medium Russet potato packs 4 grams of fiber (20-35 gm/day is recommended). Fiber can help lower cholesterol, maintain bowel regularity, slow the absorption of carbs into your bloodstream and may decrease the risk of colon and rectal cancer.

Potatoes come in a variety of colors, from red, white and blue, to the orange flesh of a sweet potato. Phytochemicals are plant compounds responsible for these colored pigments. When they act as antioxidants, phytochemicals are thought to be beneficial in protecting against cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Despite their many health benefits, I’m not encouraging you to chow down on scalloped potatoes, French fries, or a baked tater stuffed with all the fixings! Nix the butter, bacon, cheese and sour cream toppings in exchange for steamed broccoli, sautéed onions, fresh herbs and Greek yogurt. I also suggest you try making oven-baked potato wedges. Slice an Idaho potato into 6-8 segments and toss in a bowl with olive oil and rosemary or thyme. Place wedges flat side down on a cookie sheet and bake at 400°F for approximately 20-30 minutes, flipping them at the half-way point. Alternatively, you can use the same technique to prepare bite-sized, oven-roasted, red potatoes (my personal favorite!)

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Detox Diets: Beneficial or Bogus?

de·tox - The metabolic process by which the body rids itself of poisonous substances. A “detox diet” (or “cleanse”) usually promises to aid this natural process by suggesting you (1) steer clear of foods that contain toxins, and (2) consume more of certain nutrients like antioxidants, fiber and herbal extracts.

A typical detox promotes the exclusive consumption of raw fruits and vegetables and liquid meals. Most cleanses suggest drinking large amounts of water, juice or a special concoction, such as one made with lemon, maple syrup and cayenne pepper.

Detox diets will often avoid caffeine, sugar and alcohol. All of us could benefit from cutting back in these areas, but most cleanses are so limiting that your diet becomes deficient in protein and many essential vitamins and minerals. Some cleanses require strict adherence to the plan for a few days, while others want you to stick with it for an entire month! Consuming an extremely restricted diet long-term is not necessary and may even be harmful to your health. Many detox plans also encourage drinking only liquids to “give the body a rest.” However, this claim is scientifically unfounded, since the digestive system is meant to be put to work!

Can a detox diet help you lose weight? Many plans claim to kick start a sluggish metabolism by helping to purify the body. Our bodies, however, are designed to eliminate harmful substances without any help. The kidneys help excrete waste products, while the liver filters blood coming from the digestive tract and metabolizes drugs, alcohol and environmental toxins. There is no evidence that proves a detox diet helps your organs do this more efficiently. Restricting your diet to raw produce or low-calorie beverage blends will help you shed pounds quickly, but this does not mean it’s advisable. Depriving yourself on a month-long cleanse is not a sustainable strategy for weight loss and you’ll likely regain the pounds as soon as you resume your usual eating habits.

In his 2010 book, “Clean,” Dr. Alejandro Junger outlines a three week detox program that allows you to nosh on more than just vegetables. His “pesto baked salmon” recipe sounds appetizing, but you’re still only allowed one solid-food meal per day! In addition to eliminating red meat, alcohol and sugar, Junger also suggests you exclude from your diet many nutrient-rich foods, including dairy, wheat and soy. Lastly, Junger’s website advertises for Clean Program supplements, which are taken throughout the day to “cover daily health basics.” Any detox that requires a cocktail of supplements is likely unbalanced and should not be sustained for more than a few days. Despite allowing you to eat certain fresh, solid foods, even this detox appears too restrictive. Any weight lost will be temporary unless Junger’s more nutritionally sound tenets, like daily exercise and mindful snacking, can be adopted and sustained.

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