Monday, February 22, 2016

Part 1: FOODS THAT HIJACK YOUR BRAIN: You know it's bad for you, so why can't you stop eating it?

Why is it that smart, savvy people who are interested in their own health and well being cannot resist eating foods that they know with certainty are not in the least bit health promoting?  Can you relate?  You know that those chips or cookies are really just extra calories, full of god-knows-what ingredients w/ names you cannot even pronounce (if you even dare to look at the list), are not doing you any favors.  You know they are full of sugar.  You probably know they are full of fat, and it's probably not the "healthy" kind of fat.  And, chips: salt, trans fat, and carcinogenic heterocyclic amines.  But, omg, they are so tasty!  Why does our logical, thinking brain not override the insane pull to eat things we know could slowly kill us? 

Howard Moskowitz coined the term "bliss point." Food manufacturers have found ways to engineer food to be so perfectly irresistible to us that we end up wanting them more and more, no matter the cost to our health or our pocketbook.  It so reminds me of what I read about crack cocaine and methamphetamine addiction.   Food manufacturers spend a lot of time and money finding out exactly what amount of sweetness will make you want to eat the largest amount of their "food"& make you crave it more.  Not enough sugar, and you won't get too excited about it.  Too much sugar, and you'll stop eating it.  Just the right amount:  you will keep coming back for more, because the "bliss point" is so enticing.

One of the ingredients used to achieve the irresistible bliss point is sugar.  Our brains have evolved to see sugar as a reward, something to get more of.  If you think of humans foraging for food thousands of years ago, this makes perfect sense in terms of survival versus death by starvation or by eating poisonous plants.  In nature, foods that taste sweet are full of nourishment that will provide energy and other nutrients (think berries, fruit, carrots, starchy foods).  It makes sense that being naturally drawn to these tastes would aid in survival by driving humans to find nourishing, calorie containing foods.  But, in the present day, there is an abundance of sweet tasting food at every turn.  There is no danger of famine.  There is very little danger of true hunger in the Western world.  In fact, it's quite the opposite.  We have an overabundance of highly palatable (ie, irresistibly delicious) foods available that we have to do almost no physical work to get.

 Now, when we are hungry, we can just dial up, drive thru or open an attractive, colorful package full of sugary goodness.  And, our brains still say, "Good job finding food!  Get more of that stuff!  Calories = survival!"  And we do.  We get more and more and more food in our bellies.  And our belts expand more and more and more.  And we can't stop.  See the brain picture below?  This is your brain.  This is your brain on sugar.  This is your brain on cocaine.  See how sugar "lights up" the same part of the brain that cocaine does?  But, even more so?
This is why you can't say no.  The pleasure centers of your brain say "yes, yes, yes!"  And,though the logical thinking part of your brain knows better, it's often not in a state to override the pleasure center.  If you could figure out a way to override the "yes, yes, yes" message with a "no thank you" message from the old logical brain, then you'd be able to skip the sugar.  When we are tired, hungry, stressed, emotional or in any way compromised, our ability to use the logical part of our brain is limited.  But there are some proven strategies we can use to "just say no!"
  • Make a commitment to eat only unprocessed whole, natural sugar containing foods, like fruit.
  • Don't allow yourself to get way too hungry or let your blood sugar drop too low.  Eat regularly and keep healthy snacks on hand, like fruit!
  • Stay well rested.  A tired brain is a vulnerable brain.
  • Stay sober - drinking alcohol, using marijuana, etc. all compromise your logical thinking and inhibition (duh).
  • Find ways to counteract all of the visual cues to eat junk, by creating visual cues to eat the good stuff.  You can do this by 
    • placing healthful meals and snacks in the most visible spaces in the fridge and pantry
    • create a small vision board of the good stuff & representations of you at your goal
  •  Create visual reminders of your personal reason to eat healthy foods.
    • carry a small card in your wallet with a word or phrase that makes you remember what you really want for yourself and your health
Try going 1 week without eating any sugar or food with processed sweetness added.  Skip sugar, brown sugar, honey, syrup and fake sweeteners.  Use the tips above to support you in staying away from sugary things.  Make sure you eat enough whole food carbs that your body and brain aren't starving so much for them that you can't resist the junk!  Try apples, blueberries, black beans, chick peas, and other fruits, legumes and whole grains.

Go for it.  You are totally worth it!  

And,  if you'd like some support and guidance in creating healthier habits that you can stick with to overcome the food engineering and marketing, check my website and Facebook page.

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picture above c/o Happy Herbivore

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

4 Tips for Staying Motivated to Eat Right

It's no newsflash that eating a diet rich in vegetables, whole grains, legumes and fruits is good for you.  So, why doesn't everybody choose those foods everyday?  Because, knowledge is not enough to create consistent healthy behavior.  We need more motivation!  And, it doesn't help that the effects of healthy or unhealthy foods are often NOT immediate.

If every time you ate broccoli and beans you felt like you could accomplish anything, your jeans got looser, the dial on your age turned backwards, and you could feel your arteries clearing up, it would be easier to keep choosing those foods.  Similarly, if every time you ate a donut, burger or oversized meal at your favorite restaurant your jeans instantly got too tight and the buttons started popping off of your embarrassingly tight shirt, it would be easier to avoid those "foods!"  But, alas!  It is not so.  Which means we have to find motivators that are not simply immediate consequences of our choices.

So, how do you stay motivated?  How to you keep making choices that are in line with your values and your goals, even when you're craving junk food and a nap on the couch?  How do you reach for water and fruit when you're stressed and reaching for relief in the vending machine?  It's not easy, but there are some strategies that work.  And, the more consistently you endeavor to employ them, the more likely you are going to change the old habits into new health promoting ones.  The steps are simple, though not always easy.
  1. Get in touch with the deepest reasons you want to choose to eat mostly health promoting foods.  Factors that trigger an initial move toward change often have to do with health scares, tight clothes or upcoming social events.  And while those reasons for change are legitimate, you can probably dig deeper for reasons that actually tie in to your core values.  For example, if you value integrity, can you connect that value to your food choices and physical activity level today?  Integrity means getting clear on what really matters to you, and making choices in alignment with them.  I know there are people you love and things you want to do or continue doing in your life.  You want more years in your life and more life in your years, right?  What can you do today to make that happen?  Are those chips, burgers and milkshakes going to help you perform better in any part of your life?  Are they going  to keep you healthy, trim, energetic and lively?  Probably not, at least most of the time.  I challenge you to write down a core value or two that you hold dear.  How can you tie your desire to be healthy, eat health promoting foods and exercise to those values?  Remind yourself often of these motivators.  Create a visual reminder to put in your kitchen or your workspace.  It could be a saying or a photo or a full-on vision board.  It will help keep you on track!
  2. Make a plan about what and when you are going to eat each day or week & make sure you have the right food easily accessible.  Then, make a plan B!  Come up with a few go-to snacks and meals that you can eat even when you're away from home.
  3. Go to bed.  Seriously, go to bed early.  Get enough sleep every night.  Make it a priority!  When the brain and body are well-rested and rejuvenated, good decisions come much more easily.  Tired, sleep-deprived adults turn to food.  And the food they turn to is mostly empty calories of the refined carbohydrate variety.  Eating the empty calorie, high sugar food just keeps the cycle of cravings and poor choices going.
  4. Drink up!  Stay hydrated.  Drink water.  Drink herbal tea.  Have some decaf coffee if you want.  Sparkling or still water infused with whole fruit pieces is fun to drink too.  Make it easy by keeping a drink nearby at all times.  Find a few good drink choices you like and make sure you've got them available.  A few of my personal favorites include iced hibiscus tea, hot masala tea with a splash of vanilla soy milk, and good ole fizzy water with fresh lime and mint.  I'd love to hear what your favorites are too.  Share below or send me a message!

Keep on keepin' on.  Your life is totally worth the effort.  Cheers to you!

Want more individualized help, check out this online course or my website 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Polyunsaturated Omega 3 and Omega 6 Fat Recommendations for Insulin Resistance and Metabolic Syndrome

There are thousands of nutrition studies done on nutrition-related topics, and oftentimes the results of one study seem to contradict the results of another.  Scientists debate which results are relevant.  The media celebrates and sounds the horn when any study results give the slightest hope of an indication that foods long known to promote poor health (bacon, butter) are suggested to be harmless. (By the way, the authors of that 2014 article suggesting butter and saturated fat were wrongfully accused of causing disease had to post a new version of the publication shortly after it appeared on the website of the Annals of Internal Medicine to correct several major errors.) *

In 2010 in Nutrition & MetabolismBurghardt and colleagues published research suggesting that dietary factors do not affect everyone in the same way.  Most of us have had a friend or family member who could eat anything they want without gaining weight or having an elevated cholesterol level.  While others seem to be very easily affected by the amount of food and type of nutrients consumed.  Their study results suggest that some of us are more sensitive to the type of fat we eat than others.  Specifically, some of us may have worsening insulin resistance when we eat more n-6 fats, whereas some of us may be just fine.

We've known for some time now that n-6 fats tend to be inflammatory, while n-3 fats tend to have anti-inflammatory effects.  This is especially true for individuals who already suffer diseases or conditions related to inflammation, such as the metabolic syndrome, insulin sensitivity, and obesity, etc.  More than absolute amounts of fat, dietary ratios of n-3:n-6 have been identified as important in affecting all of the above conditions.  Increasing this ratio can reduce markers of inflammation and improve markers of health such as lowered triglyceride levels, lower heart rate and blood pressure, increased HDL cholesterol, and decreased insulin resistance.

What their research suggests is that the ratio of n-3:n-6 may be much more important for individuals prone to insulin resistance and inflammation than those not prone to such conditions. That could mean that for people with PCOS, pre-diabetes, diabetes, high blood pressure, dyslipidemia, etc., increasing n-3 intake and simultaneously decreasing n-6 intake will improve those conditions.  

So, how exactly can you improve your dietary intake of n-3 versus n-6?  Below is a graph depicting the fatty acid profile of a number of commonly consumed oils.  But, in a nutshell (ha!), the whole plant-based food sources highest in n-3 fatty acids are flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, chia seeds, soybeans and walnuts.  The foods highest in omega 6 fats are almonds, peanuts, cottonseed oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil, and corn oil.  You should choose a diet moderate or lower in fat, and most of that fat should be unsaturated - either mono-unsaturated or poly-unsaturated.  The polyunsaturated fats should be more n-3 and limited n-6.  This is especially true if you are prone to any of the conditions related to metabolic syndrome.

You can increase your n-3 fat intake by adding chia seeds to your morning green smoothie or oatmeal.  
My favorite smoothie recipe is:
1 cup plant-based milk (usually soy, unsweetened, nonGMO)
2-3 cups leafy greens
1 - 1/2 cups frozen blueberries or tart cherries
1 Tablespoon chia seeds OR ground flax seeds

For oatmeal, I like to make overnight oats (ONO) as follows, eating it either cold or hot within 12-72 hours:
1/2 - 1 cup oats (NOT "quick oats")
1 cup plant-based milk
1 Tablespoon chia seeds
1 Tablespoon ground flaxseeds
1 cup berries (frozen blueberries are my go - to choice)
1 chopped medjool date for sweetness 

You can use walnuts for an afternoon snack.  And, though all calories are important in weight management, studies suggest that individuals who eat whole nuts and fruit as snacks do not gain weight... I like LaraBar brand snack bar, because it is made from only fruit and nuts.  Another good snack idea would be 1 pear (or your favorite in season fruit) and 2-4 walnut halves.

To improve those n-3:n-6 ratios, you also need to avoid consuming the n-6 fats.  Typically, bottled salad dressings and sauces are made of those high n-6 oils.  Processed and packaged foods, such as crackers, cookies, and chips are also commonly are high in n-6.  Instead, you can make your own dressing at home using flaxseed oil or olive oil (mostly mono-unsaturated fat), herbs, mustard, lemon juice, vinegar, etc.

"optimal recommendations regarding omega-3 and omega-6 intake may have differing effects in healthy subjects relative to metabolic syndrome patients."

--- Burghardt, et al