Tag Archives: Health

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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Filed under Medical Conditions, Supplements, Vitamins & Minerals

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

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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Get into Gear for the New Year

I’m no fortune teller, but I’m 99% certain that next month, there will be a huge spike in the number of Internet searches associated with weight loss and dieting. Actually, Google Trends tells me this happens every January. The phenomenon is probably related to those of us hoping to shed the pounds we gained this holiday season by creating a New Year’s resolution to eat healthier and exercise more.

Yet shortly after we ring in 2012, most of us currently yearning for a fresh start will fall off the resolution bandwagon and resort back to our more indulgent, less active ways. I find that success is usually hindered by vague or extreme resolutions that are too difficult to carry out.

If you’re looking to create a resolution that’s built to last, try the tips I’ve outlined below:

1. Be specific. If you claim you’ll “exercise more often,” you’re not likely to stick to that plan. Instead, identify the type of exercise you’ll do and how often. How about this one? “I will walk for 20 minutes during my lunch break four days per week.”

2. Make it measurable. For example, “I will snack on one piece of fresh fruit daily.” This technique will help you judge if you’re following through on your commitment.

3. Set a realistic goal. Instead of saying “I want to lose 50 pounds,” aim for one pound per week and take it one step at a time. Losing just 5-10% of body weight can greatly improve your health. And, this amount can usually be achieved and maintained.

4. Put it on paper. By writing down your resolution, you’re turning a desire into a concrete goal. You may also want to note why you have this goal, which will help keep you motivated. If you want to lose weight, is it to improve the sleep apnea you’re suffering from? Or to be able to keep up with your energetic grandchildren?

5. Lastly, stay positive. Focus on things you can do, rather than things you shouldn’t. For example, instead of saying “I will not buy breakfast sandwiches on my way to work,” pledge to prepare your own breakfast four mornings per week. And if you slip up, go easy on yourself. Refocus by reviewing why you’re committed to your resolution.

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Filed under Food Groups, Fruits and Vegetables, Meal Tips, Weight loss

You Snooze, You Lose. But is caffeine a healthy alternative?

For many of us, the afternoon slump at the office usually triggers a coffee run to the nearest Starbucks. While it’s true that a caffeinated “cup of joe” can perk you up, you may want to rethink how many you’re consuming in one day.

A standard 12-ounce Starbucks coffee may contain as much as 260 milligrams (mg) of caffeine. That’s nearly the amount of caffeine I would recommend you consume in an entire day! I don’t want to pick on coffee though. Tea, soda and energy drinks can also pack a caffeinated punch and there are hidden sources of caffeine, such as chocolate, coffee-flavored ice cream and over the counter cold medicine.

How much is too much? Moderate caffeine consumption – about 300 mg per day for adults – appears relatively safe. Overdoing it on the java, however, can cause temporary undesirable effects, depending on your usual intake and tolerance. Common symptoms may include headaches, trembling, raised heart rate, a spike in blood pressure and increased fluid losses via urine. Consuming caffeine within six hours of bedtime may also interfere with getting a good night’s sleep.

During pregnancy, caffeine crosses the placental barrier, but a baby has only a limited ability to metabolize it. Pregnant women should consult their doctor on how much caffeine is appropriate to consume.

Some studies have indicated that caffeine may be detrimental to bone health, but the research is inconclusive. Ordinary intakes of caffeine (say, the amount in two small cups of coffee), may increase calcium losses in the body, but this may occur only when calcium consumption is low. Studies have also shown that high intakes of coffee, in particular, may inhibit iron and zinc absorption, but it’s not all simply due to caffeine.

Is it best to nix the caffeine all together? Not necessarily. It’s perfectly healthy to indulge in two small cups of coffee per day, as long as you’re not also slugging back sodas and energy drinks. This should provide enough caffeine to give you the energy boost you’re looking for. Plus, there is limited evidence that coffee and tea may actually reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, dementia and certain types of cancer.

Use the table below to tally how much caffeine you’re consuming and aim for less than 300 mg per day!

Beverage (serving size)

Approx. Caffeine Content

Coffee, generic, brewed (12 oz)

140 mg

Starbucks coffee, brewed (12 oz)

260 mg

McDonalds coffee, brewed (12 oz)

75 mg

Green Tea (8 oz)

30 mg

Black Tea (8 oz)

38 mg

Lipton Brisk Lemon Iced Tea (12 oz)

7 mg

Coca-Cola Classic (12 oz)

35 mg

Mountain Dew (12 oz)

54 mg

Pepsi Max (12 oz)

69 mg

Club soda, 7-Up, Sprite (12 oz)

0 mg

Red Bull energy drink (8 oz)

80 mg

Monster energy drink (8 oz)

80 mg

5-Hour Energy (2 oz)

140 mg

**In addition to caffeine content, you should always be aware of the liquid calories you’re consuming, so that beverages do not contribute to unwanted weight gain.

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Rethink Your Drink

As a follow-up to my post on laying off the booze, it’s important to discuss the effect other types of caloric beverages, including juice and soda, have on weight loss efforts.

The scientific literature demonstrates that gulping water instead of high-calorie beverages at mealtime results in a lower total energy intake. In one particular study, no matter what drink subjects were assigned, participants consumed the same amount of calories from food (Della Valle et al, 2005). In other words, people don’t compensate for a highly caloric beverage by eating less. The beverage then ends up tagging unnecessary calories onto the energy tab.

But can water, specifically, help you lose weight? According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, adults who drink water have significantly lower total energy intake than non-water drinkers.

Scientific evidence also shows that water boosts lipid oxidation, or the breakdown of fat.  Experiments show that drinking water during exercise, rather than a sugary beverage, results in a greater breakdown of fat tissue stores (Stookey et al, 2009). Caloric beverages promote the release of insulin in the body, which inhibits fat oxidation.

Another study examined fat oxidation in healthy adults after eating (Brown et al, 2006). In the hours following breakfast consumption, fat breakdown in those who drank water with their meal exceeded the amount of fat contained in the actual test food. Fat breakdown was significantly less in subjects who had orange juice with breakfast. Put simply, constantly sipping on caloric beverages slows fat breakdown.

The bottom line? Switching to water is an effective way to reduce energy intake and stimulate the breakdown of fat. No wonder the ancient Greek poet Pindar once said, “Water is the best of all things.” Intake of all types of caloric beverages – be it alcohol, juice, regular soda or sports drinks – has the potential to make weight management a losing battle.

 

Reference: Stookey JD. Will drinking water help me lose weight? What healthcare professionals can say in response. Clinical Nutrition Insight. 2010; 36(2):1-4.

 

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Beer: Better to “stay thirsty, my friends”

Q: How many calories are in a typical alcoholic beverage?

A: The quick answer? More than you probably think! One 12-oz beer has around 150 calories, while a 5-oz glass of wine contains about 100 calories. One small shot of an 80 proof spirit (e.g. gin, rum, vodka, whiskey), however, packs 96 calories and that’s not accounting for the mixer you’re using!

Simple math tells us that just two glasses of wine with dinner tacks another 200 calories onto the energy bill, while a tumbler of rum & cola adds anywhere from 150 – 200 calories. Most surprisingly, a single piña colada can supply nearly 300 calories! Yikes.

Do you remember the term “empty calories” being tossed around in health class? Alcoholic beverages are high in energy, but nearly devoid of any beneficial vitamins and minerals. Weight maintenance is all about balancing ‘energy in’ with ‘energy out,’ so if you’re worried about your figure, be careful how many frozen margaritas you’re slugging back and try to order drinks made with diet or club soda.

This post wouldn’t be complete without briefly mentioning other potentially harmful effects of alcohol consumption. Chronic heavy drinking raises your chance of developing future health complications, including liver problems, cancer and cardiovascular disease. However, quantity and frequency are independently associated with risk. In most cases, it is the number of drinks in one sitting that is detrimental to your health, rather than an occasional social cocktail. Frequent, but modest alcohol intake actually lowers your risk for cardiovascular disease, but may still be associated with an increased risk of cancer. To balance these effects, the American Heart Association recommends drinking only in “moderation,” if you’re going to do it at all. “Moderation” is defined as no more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 for women.

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Filed under Heart Healthy Choices, Meal Tips, Medical Conditions, Weight loss