How to Avoid Weight Gain During the Holidays
One to five. This is the average amount of a weight (in pounds) an adult will gain each holiday season, beginning Thanksgiving and rolling through to New Year’s Day. ‘Tis the season to talk about a few physiological changes that happen with weight gain, some reasons we tend to gain weight during this time of year and how to avoid it!
What happens inside our bodies when we gain weight? Initially, there’s an increase in the number of adipocytes (fat cells). Sadly, this number will never return to the original number (unless you undergo a procedure like CoolSculpt®). Instead, the cells can increase in quantity (with further weight gain) and/or change in volume – either smaller (during weight loss) or larger (during weight gain). This means, the next time around it’s easier for those cells to “refill” the lost “weight”. Unfortunately, these adipocytes are not just along for the ride either, they change the way your body makes, stores and circulates hormones (among other things). Another area that’s affected, is your heart. It’s put under extra stress due to additional weight and blood volume, causing a rise in blood pressure. Poorly controlled blood pressure can lead to stroke, heart disease, kidney failure and impotence – (the last one mentioned if you dozed off… but a good motivator). Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, a person can become insulin resistant. Which means that the hormone, insulin, has a reduced response to the sugar (glucose) floating in your blood streams. Often, this is due to a poor diet that leads to a consistently elevated blood sugar. When blood sugar remains high for too long it becomes similar to “white noise”. Have you ever heard a white noise machine, at first you do … and then you don’t. Other profound changes include poor sleep, skin changes, digestion upset, and the ever familiar tightly fitting clothes. You see, this is more than just aesthetics.
Holidays are a wonderful time of year; I am one of the first to turn the station to Christmas tunes as soon as the calendar rolls to November. Nevertheless, just like the American way, we allow such a special time of year to become all about over-spending, overeating and under sleeping. Oftentimes when I talk to others about their holiday plans and I end up hearing them complain about too many parties, classroom gatherings, gifts for her and gifts for him. To top it off each party has a menu, with too many decadent cookies, gingerbread houses, stuffing and don’t forget the free-flowing wine and spirits. All capped off with year-end work deadlines, gift wrapping and last-minute online shopping. Just writing this makes me exhausted! You see how our over packed agendas and less than charged personal batteries cause us to store extra weight this time of year.
How do we avoid all of this?
How to Boost your Health with Delicious Coffee
There’s little better than a warm, aromatic, comforting cup of coffee in the morning. It is one of the most beloved drinks of Americans, in fact it’s estimated that 83% of the United States population drinks at least one cup daily. Most people would agree that the drink started out as a caffeine jolt (maybe during late nights studying for college courses, or in the first days of their new baby’s life). For most, the beverage gradually morphed into a daily ritual, something they could plan on. Coffee comes in many different mugs; some like it lightly roasted, others black and bold, and some can’t have it without a good dollop of sugar, cream or maybe even a little Bailey’s? Hopefully it goes without saying (though I will anyway), that all of these additives can break the benefits that come with a health conscious brand of coffee. Read on to learn whether coffee is good for you … spoiler alert, ~ 83% of you will be pleased with the findings, and the rest of you aren’t reading this article anyway! :)
Coffee is one of those habits that constantly receives mixed health reviews. Did you know that coffee is actually the richest source of antioxidants in the western diet, more than even ‘superfoods’ like blueberries and kale? This comparison is based on 100 gram weights of said food/drink. Antioxidants are important because they’re anti-aging, free-radical fighting compounds - these are the shields that defend our cells from damage (a.k.a cell oxidation = cell aging).
Celery Juice - yay or nay?
Green drinks and juicing have been a nutrition guru’s go-to for years now. If you read nutrition blogs or browse Instagram posts then you may have seen something about celery juicing. According to the Medical Medium, “Celery is truly the savior when it comes to chronic illness.” Which is a far contrast to what most people think of as a measly veggie that provides a bit of crunch in their ranch dip. Despite that, this health kick is sweeping the nation. I can’t believe the number of patients and friends that have asked me about this newfangled-fix-all! Who is behind this celery juice that is taking over the world, what does it taste like and most importantly, does it really work?!
First let’s talk about the man behind the green glass of goodness. He calls himself the Medical Medium. The following is what his bio looks like, “Meet Anthony William, #1 New York Times best-selling author... was born with the unique ability to converse with Spirit of Compassion who provides him with extraordinarily accurate health information that’s often far ahead of its time.” That’s pretty much it…a man whose advice millions are following with absolutely zero health, nutrition, science, anatomy or physiology background. Now mind you, eating a stalk of celery everyday isn’t bad advice, but is it going to cure all your ailments?
Let’s start with how the juice is supposed to be consumed. To really reap the benefits of celery juice, the stalks should be juiced (no pulp), consumed by itself (nothing added to it at all, not even ice), and a full 16 ounces are drank on an empty stomach first thing in the morning at least 30 minutes before breakfast.
The amount of celery to use is an entire stalk (not just a single rib) which is about 8 cups, roughly chopped. Nutrition information for 8 cups of celery (pre-juiced) is 113 calories, 5.6 grams protein, 1 gram of fat, 24 grams of carbohydrate, 13 grams of fiber (40% Daily Value, DV), 2101 mg potassium (105% DV), 25 mg Vitamin C (42% DV), 0.46 mg Riboflavin (27% DV), 0.6 mg Vitamin B6 (30% DV), 178 mcg RAE of Vitamin A (~20% DV), 237 mcg Vitamin K (nearly 300% DV) and various other vitamins and minerals. The nutrition profile is for those chewing the entire 8 or so cups of celery. Whenever you juice anything you remove most, if not all, of the fiber. Listen… can you hear your gut microbes crying? ☹
In addition to the quantifiable nutrition facts, celery also contains antioxidants that help protect against oxidative damage to our cells and tissues (think vibrancy and youth). They also contain phytochemicals (or phytonutrients) which have antioxidant like properties and other beneficial effects in the human body. Both, antioxidants and phytochemicals are found in all plant foods in varying amounts.
Before writing about this topic I had to try the trend out for myself. First, let’s talk about what the juice tastes like? Honestly, it’s not the worst thing I’ve tasted, it’s much like what you’d expect celery juice to taste like; a cold, grassy juice. The vibrant green drink is beautiful too, so that adds to its’ appeal. However, I didn’t like the laborious, wasteful process. During my short stint of celery juicing I started the process the night before (as to not wake my kiddos with the hum of our blender); each night I’d wash and roughly chop my organic celery and begin to blend, then I had to remove the pulp. I didn’t like that the pulp had to be sieved through mesh and tossed out (not an issue if you have a juicer, but in either case it’s wasteful). I searched for recipes to use the pulp but found nothing appealing, so I fed it to our chickens. Lastly, and most importantly, I missed my warm cup of coffee. Don’t get me wrong I drink a fair amount of water first thing in the morning, but I want to quickly follow that with my morning coffee. For me, it just wasn’t a good fit.
Even if the process seemed too time consuming, would I be willing to do it if science suggested? Well…the research behind the craze is sparse. I searched PubMed and Medscape and looked for other reliable resources and didn’t find much. However, I did learn that celery has been used for thousands of years as a homemade remedy for various ailments such as hangovers and digestive issues, like bloating.
Whether the science backs this trend, or not, perhaps part of the benefit of celery juicing is that the follower is consuming nearly 8 cups of veggies and 16 ounces of water before they wipe the sleep out of their eyes; the average person only eats two to three servings of veggies their entire day! In addition, this amount of celery is an excellent source (greater than 20% DV) of fiber and potassium (two nutrients that are inadequately consumed in the American population).
Does celery juicing work for you? I’ve heard believers of celery juice say their skin improved, they had more consistent bowel movements and they felt less bloated. If celery juicing makes me you feel better, then keep it up! If you feel better, do you need further reassurance than that?
Creating a Goal Worth Sticking With.
We’ve all experienced it. At some point in our lives we’ve created a goal that we’re so giddy about. That initial phase is like Christmas day; there’s excitement, along with progress and a natural momentum with each breathe of confidence … then something happens. It could be the loss of a job, a vacation, or a crazy-busy season of life. This eventually results in a slowdown of those momentum wheels, maybe this slow down results in a plateau (this is actually success believe it or not), or perhaps a total loss of progress.
Was it you, or your goal?
The first step to creating change is identifying a proper goal. Begin with a specific action that you wish to change. This action should be measurable, easy to calculate whether you’ve achieved it or not, achievable, literally, is this goal within your capabilities (or perhaps start a bit smaller) and include an end date (you will follow this goal for a definitive amount of time). Remember SMART goals from grade school, yes, there’s a reason we learned how to do them?!
Since I’m a dietitian, the example goal we’ll use is going to be food related. My goal; to consume a total of nine servings of fruits and vegetables every day for the next two months. There’s action (eating, easy enough), measure (nine total servings of fruits and veggies), and a timeline (daily for the next two months).
“Goals in writing are dreams with deadlines.” – Brian Tracy
What I love about a goal like the above is that instead of depriving you of something, it comes from a place of positivity and kindness, (something health related goals rarely do). By this I mean that you are encouraged to eat more of what makes you feel good, not less of something. Goals shouldn’t be punishment.
Now that we’ve identified a written goal, assess progress toward your goal daily. Fast forward two months and now you’re getting in the groove of eating nine servings of fruits and veggies daily, and you’ve gained confidence. When you’ve achieved your goal, create another one while the momentum is still hot! This is the definition of steppingstone, or mini goals.
Steppingstone goals are beneficial because they are short enough to stay motivated and see the light at the end of the tunnel, yet they still offer a big boost in confidence with each successful completion! With confidence you can create your next steppingstone goal and make it just a little bigger. Each time you reach a goal you gain confidence and become a little closer to the person you wish to become.
“Without dreams and goals there is no living, only merely existing, and that is not why we are here.” - Mark Twain
Red Meat, Processed Meats, Nitrates and Cancer
It’s grilling season! Among the favorites to grill are heavily processed, red meats such as hotdogs, smoked ham and bacon wrapped burgers. Red and processed meats have routinely been criticized for causing cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Since there are many aspects of red meats and processed meats that may be to blame for these conditions, let’s put our focus on, nitrates and nitrites.
Nitrates and nitrites are the preservatives often found in cured meats; they’re added to enhance color, provide flavor and prevent deadly bacterial growth (clostridium botulinum)!
Once consumed, nitrates take various forms in the body. First, nitrates are reduced to nitrites, by the bacteria in our mouth. Nitrites may convert to nitric oxide (via the acid in our stomachs), then are absorbed by our small intestine and finally excreted by our kidneys via urine. Some research shows that nitrates that convert to nitric oxide may benefit cardiovascular health. For those of you “gym-goers”, nitric oxide may sound familiar because it’s used as a pre-workout supplement. That’s because it acts on our blood vessels as a vasodilator, which relaxes the blood vessels and makes them more efficient at pumping more blood (and therefore more oxygen) per beat. This has been shown to improve athletic performance, among other benefits. On the other hand, nitrites can take a different path and may form nitrosamines. Nitrosamines are the combination of nitrites and amines (the breakdown product of amino acids – the building blocks of protein). Nitrosamines were shown in some research to cause tumors in lab animals.
Well that’s confusing! On one hand nitrates may cause cancer, but on the other they may benefit cardiovascular health. Furthermore, did you know that more nitrates are found naturally in foods such as turnips, rhubarb, beets and celery, than those chemically added to processed meats (like potassium nitrate)? That’s because nitrates and nitrites are part of the earth’s nitrogen cycle; therefore anything that grows in the ground will contain some level of nitrates. Like so many other divisive nutrition topics, it’s important to consider the context.
Although some research shows nitrites can form cancer causing nitrosamines, this pathway is less likely when antioxidants (in the form of vegetables) are consumed. Since meats do not contain these antioxidants, there is a potential correlation with the meat preservatives, nitrates and nitrites, and an increased risk of stomach and colon cancer.
If it’s the nitrates that are the issue let’s just omit them, right? That’s what some companies are doing, I’m sure you’ve seen the new food claims that state “No nitrates/nitrites added except for those naturally occurring…”? The statement is regulated by the USDA (United States Dept. of Agriculture), but does it really mean anything, and is it better?
For example; a “naturally” cured turkey bacon ingredient list may look like this: [Turkey, Water, Vinegar, Sea Salt, Raw Sugar, Celery Powder]. Although this bacon is indeed preserved without the use of nitrates or nitrites, it is not nitrate- or nitrite-free since there are naturally occurring nitrates in celery. This packaging may lead the consumer to believe it is superior to conventional (chemically preserved) meat. However, the body sees natural nitrates and chemically derived nitrates the same. Unfortunately, labeling meats as uncured is misleading.
To add to the confusion, “processed” meat is multifaceted; cured and processed meat is often red meat of lesser quality and likely fattier cuts; often containing preservatives, sugar, breading and more sodium than likely achieved via home preparation. Additionally, the nutrition of a plant or animal is also dependent on how it is raised, prepared, seasoned and ultimately cooked.
So what is a nutrition conscious person to do? Choose a variety of proteins instead which include seafood, poultry, red meat and vegetable proteins. Limit your use of all processed meats including those that are smoked and cured and consider sodium content; choose products that contain less than 250 or 300 milligrams per serving. While you’re at it, vary your preparation methods as well; roast, slow cook, sauté and grill your meats - just because it’s tasty!