The Science Behind Intermittent Fasting

You may have heard of intermittent fasting, which essentially is starvation done in a strategic manner. People who follow this practice take periodic breaks from eating, for up to 24 hours, once or twice a week. This popular diet touts intermittent fasting as an effective way to lose weight and to improve health. But is it for you?

Proponents of intermittent fasting suggest that you eat sensibly most of the time, fast for an extended period of time, and indulge on a designated cheat day. A common method is the 5:2 diet, in which one restricts calories for two non-consecutive days a week and eats normally the other five days. Another method is to eat every day, but only during a specific six or eight hour time window. The research that has been done on intermittent fasting has been conducted on animals rather than humans. Some results are promising, including reduction in oxidative stress, inflammation, and LDL (bad) cholesterol. While your body is fasting, cells are under mild stress. The cells respond to stress by enhancing their ability to cope with stress and to possibly resist disease. Other possible benefits include weight loss, improved insulin sensitivity, protection of memory, and lower risk of chronic disease. The long-term effects of intermittent fasting are not well understood, and more studies need to be done before it can be widely recommended.

Intermittent fasting may help to promote weight loss because it could result in an overall reduction in calorie intake as long as one does not overeat on non-fasting days. The problem is that when people go for long periods without eating, they often crave high-calorie, high-fat foods, which may result in binge eating on non-fasting days. For many people, it may be more effective to cut back on food intake slightly seven days per week rather than fasting for two days and then eating normally for five days.

Intermittent fasting is not practical or sustainable for everyone. It may not be safe if you have diabetes because prolonged fasting could result in low blood sugar. Before you try intermittent fasting, it is important to talk with your healthcare provider to see if it is something that is safe for you to incorporate into your lifestyle. A healthcare provider can help to be sure that you are including the right foods in your diet. Remember that what you eat is probably more important than when you are eating.

Should I be taking a Dietary Supplement?

dietary-supplements

Americans spend billions of dollars on vitamins and dietary supplements annually, but are they good for you? The Dietary Guidelines for Americans states that your nutrition needs should be met primarily through a well-balanced diet. Some people, however, may need to take a supplement in order to get nutrients they may otherwise lack if they do not follow a healthy diet. Before you start to take a dietary supplement, get the facts on what they will and won’t do for your health.

Dietary supplements aren’t intended to be a substitute for healthy food. They cannot replicate the benefits and variety of nutrients found in whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, fish, lean meats, and low-fat dairy products. Whole foods are complex and contain a multitude of micronutrients your body needs, along with dietary fiber, phytochemicals, and antioxidants. If you eat a well-balanced diet, chances are that a dietary supplement may not be worth the added expense. Unlike supplements, a balanced diet contains the appropriate balance of nutrients that can help to prevent certain diseases and promote a healthy weight. Dietary supplements are not drugs, and are not intended to treat, prevent, or cure diseases.

Nutritional supplements might be helpful if you don’t eat a balanced diet, are a vegetarian or vegan, are pregnant or may become pregnant, or if you are over the age of 50. If you have a restrictive diet that eliminates entire food groups, it is likely that you are not receiving sufficient nutrients in your diet. Certain instances when a supplement is likely beneficial include:

  • Women who may become pregnant should get 400 micrograms per day of folic acid in order to prevent neural tube defects.
  • Women who are pregnant should take a prenatal vitamin that contains iron.
  • Adults age 65 or older should take 800 International Units of Vitamin D daily to promote healthy bones and to prevent falls.
  • Adults age 50 and older may need to take a vitamin B-12 supplement.

If you think you may benefit from a dietary supplement, talk to your doctor, dietitian, or pharmacist. Remember that there are risks associated with taking dietary supplements. Some supplements and herbals can be harmful if taken with certain prescription medications. Be sure to check the label and avoid taking mega-doses, which can cause dangerous side effects. Fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E and K are stored in your fat and liver cells, and excessive amounts can accumulate and have toxic effects. Remember that just because something is labeled “natural,” doesn’t mean that it is always safe. Before taking a dietary supplement, ask your healthcare provider these questions:

  • What are the potential health benefits of taking this supplement?
  • Are there any risk associated with taking this supplement?
  • What is the appropriate dose to take?
  • How often, when and how long should I take this?

The bottom line is that if you are eating a balanced diet, you probably do not need to take a dietary supplement. If you think that your diet is lacking, a daily multivitamin can assure that you are getting the essential vitamins and minerals you need. If you are concerned about a specific nutrient, be sure to talk with your doctor, dietitian, or pharmacist before taking a specific dietary supplement. Your healthcare provider can help you to make an informed decision about which supplements may be appropriate for you.

National Popcorn Day

popcorn

January 19th is National Popcorn Day! Did you know that Americans consume 13 billion quarts of popcorn annually? Packed with whole grains, fiber and antioxidants, this delicious treat can also be healthy and low in calories.

Plain, natural popcorn is full of health benefits, but be careful of added butter and sugar. A large sized popcorn from the movie theater has about 1200 calories and 60 grams of saturated fat. Microwave popcorn is often loaded with unhealthy oils, while kettle corn and caramel corn add hefty doses of sugar. If you do choose microwave popcorn, be sure to look for a light microwave option, which has less fat, fewer calories, and often less sodium than regular varieties.

To get the most health benefits, choose air popped popcorn, which has only about 30 calories per cup. If you don’t have a hot air popper, put 3-4 tablespoons of kernels in a brown paper bag, fold the top of the bag twice to be sure it’s closed, and then microwave for two minutes, or until there’s only a few seconds between pops.

Try these healthy popcorn recipes to celebrate National Popcorn Day:

Mediterranean Popcornmediterranean-spiced-popcorn
Ingredients:
9 cups popped popcorn
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 ½ tsp Italian seasoning blend
1 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:
Drizzle olive oil evenly over the top of the popcorn, followed by Italian herbs and grated Parmesan. Toss well. Store in a seal-able plastic bag.

Serving size: 3 cups
Nutrition facts per serving: 121calories, 3 g protein, 13 g carbohydrate, 7 g fat, 1.2 g saturated fat, 2.5 g fiber, 125 mg sodium

Popcorn Trail Mixpopcorn trail mix
Ingredients:
9 cups popped popcorn
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup roasted unsalted almonds

Directions:
Combine popcorn, cranberries and almonds and toss together. Store in a seal-able plastic bag.

Serving size: 2.5 cups
Nutrition facts per serving: 200 calories, 5 g protein, 25 g carbohydrate, 10 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 4 g fiber, 68 mg sodium

Dietary Fats 101

fats

For years, fats have gotten a bad rap, but fats are essential for your health. Fat is a concentrated source of energy and helps your body to absorb some vitamins and minerals. They help to build cell membranes and are necessary for blood clotting and muscle movement. Some fats are better than others, so it’s important to know which types of fats you should eat and how much you need in your diet so that you can make good food choices. For overall health, good fats include unsaturated fats, bad ones include trans-fats, and saturated fats fall somewhere in between.

Trans-fats are the worst type of dietary fat and should be minimized in your diet. They are vegetable oils that have been chemically modified into a solid. They have a long shelf life and can be found in margarine, shortening, packaged cookies, chips, crackers, and baked goods. On a food label, trans-fats are usually listed as “partially hydrogenated oil.” Trans-fats have no known health benefits and increase the amount of “bad” LDL cholesterol and reduce the amount of “good” HDL cholesterol in the bloodstream. They also result in inflammation, which is linked to heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. In addition, they contribute to insulin resistance, which increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Even a small amount of trans-fats have found to be harmful to your health.

Saturated fats are common in the American diet. They are solid at room temperature and come from animal products. Dietary sources include red meat, whole milk, butter, cheese, eggs and coconut oil. A diet high in saturated fats can increase LDL cholesterol and lead to heart disease and blocked arteries. It is recommended to limit saturated fats to less than 10% of your daily caloric intake.

Unsaturated fats are good fats. They are liquid at room temperature and come from vegetables, nuts, seeds and fish. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated are two different types of unsaturated fats.

Monounsaturated fats are also called Omega-9 fatty acids. They are not considered essential in your diet because your body can make them. These types of fats are found in canola oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil, almonds, avocados and olive oil. Eating Omega-9s instead of saturated fat can help to lower your cholesterol and may reduce your risk of diabetes and heart disease. There is no recommended daily intake of monounsaturated fat, but they are a good alternative to saturated and trans-fats.

Polyunsaturated fats are considered essential fats. They cannot be made by your body, so you must get them from the foods that you eat. Eating these types of fats instead of saturated fats helps to lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. The main types of polyunsaturated fats are Omega-3 fatty acids and Omga-6 fatty acids.

There are three kinds of Omega-3 fatty acids: alpha linolenic acid (ALA), EPA, and DHA. ALA is found in plant foods such as walnuts, olive oil, chia seed, flaxseed, and in some eggs. EPA and DHA are found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna, trout, striped bass, and herring. EPA is anti-inflammatory and is associated with a reduction in heart disease, stroke, blood pressure, triglycerides, cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. It also helps to raise HDL cholesterol. DHA plays an important role in brain health. Most Americans are not getting enough Omega-3 fatty acids in their diets. The American Heart Associate recommends that you eat at least two servings of fatty fish per week in order to reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer and improve mental health. Alternatively, you could talk to your physician or dietitian about taking a fish oil supplement.

Unlike Omega-3 fatty acids, most people are receiving plenty of Omega-6 fatty acids in their diets. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in vegetable oils like corn oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, peanut oil, and soy oil. It is important to have an appropriate ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids. Too little omega-3s and too much omega-6s can result in inflammation and can be problematic for your heart, blood pressure, joints, liver and pancreas. An ideal ratio of omega 6 fatty acids to omega 3 fatty acids is about 4:1, however, most people are getting 15 to 25 times more omega-6s than omega-3s. The bottom line is that omega-6s are better for you than saturated fats, but most people are eating too much. Focus on increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids to reduce inflammation and to bring your ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s close to 4:1.

Knowing the difference between these types of fats can be confusing. Remember to avoid trans-fats from shortening, margarine and processed foods. Reduce your intake from saturated fats, which come from animals and are solid at room temperature. Focus on increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, from fatty fish, olive oil, walnuts, chia seeds and flaxseeds.

Maintaining a Healthy Weight During the Winter Months

Active-Family-in-Winter

During the month of January, many of us are working on keeping the extra pounds off. You may have gained a bit of weight after the overindulgence of the holidays, and it can be challenging to get back to a healthy routine. Shorter days and cooler temperatures tend to make us more likely to eat more and exercise less.

Follow these tips to maintain a healthy weight during the winter:

  1. Stay active. Physical activity helps you to burn calories, build muscle and boost your metabolism. Try out winter sports such as snowshoeing, ice skating or cross country skiing. Go for a winter hike in a local state park. Take part in a yoga class or go bowling with a friend. By staying active during the winter months, you’ll feel better both mentally and physically.
  2. Eat balanced meals at regular times. Include breakfast, which helps to boost your metabolism and provides energy to sustain you throughout the day. Include small snacks so that you are eating something healthy about every 3 to 4 hours. Skipping meals often leads to overeating later in the day.
  3. Watch your portion sizes. Divide your plate into four equal parts and fill one with lean protein, one with a whole grain, one with a fruit and the other with a non-starchy vegetable. Use smaller plates, glasses, bowls and serving spoons to keep portion sizes in check. If eating out, split an entrée with a friend or save half for later.
  4. Eat mindfully. Eat more slowly and try to make the meal last for at least 20 minutes. Listen to your internal hunger cues and eat when hungry rather than when bored or stressed. Stop eating when you feel full. If you practice this enough, it’s likely that you will feel satisfied after eating less food.
  5. Choose fiber-rich foods. Fiber is a non-digestible plant component found in foods such as brown rice, whole grain breads, beans, bran and oat cereals, fruits and vegetables. Fiber helps with digestion and fills you up without adding excessive calories. Avoid low fiber foods such as white rice, white potatoes, sugar and sweets.
  6. Choose healthy fats. Don’t cut out fat completely as many low-fat or nonfat foods are loaded with sugar. Healthy fats eaten in moderation as part of a balanced diet help to keep you feeling full and can have beneficial effects on your heart. Include foods high in heart healthy fats such as avocados, olive oil, salmon, or walnuts.
  7. Stay hydrated with water. Thirst is often mistaken for hunger, so fill up on some water when you are feeling hungry. Avoid sugary beverages, which add extra calories without filling you up. A 12-ouce can of soda typically has around 150 calories and 10 teaspoons of added sugar. Drinking 300 calories per day from sugary beverages could easily lead to a 12 pound weight gain over one year! Aim to drink at least 8 eight-ounce glasses of water per day.
  8. Lift your mood. Short days can lead some people to feel depressed and fatigued due to lower levels of serotonin, a mood-enhancing chemical in your brain. It is easy to use food, especially sweets, to make you feel better. Carbohydrate rich foods result in a serotonin rush, which may be why you crave sweets when you are feeling down or tired. Find an alternative method to lift your mood, such as going to a movie, reading a book, taking a bath, listening to music, participating in a hobby, or talking with a friend. Exercise boosts the feel good chemicals serotonin and endorphins, so rather than grabbing candy, be physically active. If you are tempted to find comfort with food, try a steaming mug of hot tea.
  9. Get plenty of sleep. Lack of sleep often results in overeating and poor food choices due to fatigue. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
  10. Start a food journal. Write down what you eat and how often you exercise to increase your awareness. You can use an app such as My Fitness Pal.

Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best things you can do to improve your overall health and well-being. It can be challenging to follow a healthy diet and exercise plan during the winter months, but with a little planning, determination and encouragement, you can meet your goals.

Mediterranean Diet named “Best Overall Diet”

mediterranean diet

Are you going on a diet as part of your New Year’s Resolution? You may want to try the Mediterranean diet. A panel of nutrition experts through the U.S. News & World Report recently rated the Mediterranean diet as Number One in its “Best Overall Diet Category,” tied with the DASH Diet.

Unlike fad diets, the Mediterranean diet is a well-balanced eating plan that is sustainable. It reflects the traditional way of eating in countries that surround the Mediterranean Sea, where the incidence of heart disease is much lower than in the United States. The Mediterranean Diet emphasizes physical activity and social connections. The core foods that should be incorporated daily include: whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, herbs, spices, nuts, and olive oil. Fish and seafood are eaten at least twice a week and dairy, eggs and poultry are eaten in moderation. Red meat and sweets are rarely eaten. The Mediterranean was also named the diet that is “Easiest to follow.”

Follow these tips from Oldways to get started with the Mediterranean Diet.

  1. Eat lots of vegetables. Aim to fill at least half of your plate with vegetables. Slice tomatoes and drizzle with olive oil and top with feta cheese, toss a variety of veggies in soups and stews, make a salad with plenty of greens, and top a pizza with your favorite colorful vegetables.
  2. Eat less meat. Include smaller portions of red meat and use it as a side dish rather than the main entrée. Beans are packed in protein, so rather than using meat, add chickpeas to salads, pinto beans into a quesadilla or dip veggies into hummus.
  3. Enjoy dairy products. Greek Yogurt is a great choice and is high in protein.
  4. Eat seafood twice a week. Fish such as tuna, herring, salmon and sardines are rich in heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Try adding grilled fish to pasta marinara or to whole-wheat couscous.
  5. Cook a vegetarian meal one night per week. Use beans, whole grains, and vegetables as the base of your meal. Flavor with plenty of herbs and spices. Try pasta with vegetables, minestrone soup, or steamed veggies over brown rice.
  6. Use heart healthy fats. Fatty fish, extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, olives and avocados are good sources of healthy fat. Make olive oil your go-to cooking oil and toss nuts with sautéed vegetables. Make a trail mix using your favorite dried fruits, whole-grain cereal, nuts and seeds.
  7. Switch to whole grains. Whole grains are high in fiber, which help to keep you full for longer. Bulgur, barley, farro and brown, black or red rice are traditional Mediterranean grains.
  8. Choose fresh fruit for dessert. Instead of ice cream or cookies, choose fruit, which is naturally sweet.