You know that eating healthy, staying active, and solving a few brain games can help keep you sharp. But these lesser-known habits work wonders too.
1 Sit Tall
When we are sad or afraid, we naturally collapse or cower. Studies show that the converse is also true: When we slouch, this defeated position actually causes us to feel anxious or depressed—which makes it harder to think clearly and remember things. In a study of 125 college students, 56 percent found it easier to do math problems when they sat up straight than when they slumped down.
Erect posture apparently improves memory because it boosts blood and oxygen flow to the brain—by up to 40 percent, according to one estimate.
Having trouble remembering faces? Break a sweat. In a small study, researchers at the University of Iowa showed pictures of faces to older folks (average age: 67) on two different days and after two different kinds of workouts. On one day, they pedaled a stationary bike for 20 minutes at a pace that was intense enough to make them breathe heavily but still be able to talk. On the other day, they simply sat for 20 minutes on a self-pedaling bike.
On average, people remembered the faces better after the intense exercise. What’s more, the memory gains after a single workout were similar to the gains after three months of regular exercise.
3 Limit TV
Every parent and grandparent has heard that too much screen time can hurt a child’s cognitive development. But what about those at the other end of their life span?
To find out, researchers at University College London analyzed data from more than 3,500 participants in a long-term study who were age 50 or older and did not have dementia at their initial assessment. Controlling for physical activity, health conditions, and demographic factors such as education, they found that people who watched more than three and a half hours of TV a day for six years experienced a greater drop in verbal memory test scores (an average decrease of 8–10 percent) than those who watched less (an average decrease of 4–5 percent).
On a related note: Another study found that watching violent programming elevates stress hormones, which impairs memory.
Researchers at the University of Waterloo recruited a group of younger adults and a group of older adults, gave them a series of 30 words, and asked them to either draw or write them out. After a short break, both groups were asked to recall as many words as they could. In both age-groups, those who drew the words remembered the most. The effect was actually greater in the older adults.
According to one of the study’s authors, this happens because while some parts of the brain involved in memory retrieval deteriorate with age, the visual-processing regions usually don’t. Hence, sketching can help adults of any age keep their memory as sharp as a college student’s.
5 Walk Backward
Next time you’re trying to recall something, don’t just think back—walk back. In a series of experiments, participants viewed a video of a staged crime, a word list, or a set of pictures. Then they imagined walking forward or backward, watched a video that simulated forward or backward motion, or actually walked forward or backward. Some people also sat still.
Backward motion—whether real, imagined, or watched—helped people remember the information better than sitting still and, in most instances, better than forward motion. It may be that moving backward in space mentally helps us move back in time to the moment we learned something.
Even though you may loathe it, not all body fat is bad. In fact, having more of certain kinds can actually be beneficial.
When talking about body fat, you likely lament those areas of the excess cellular collection — such as your saddlebags, belly pooch and side-boob areas. This overage can be annoying when it comes to physique goals, and excessive amounts of fat are hazardous to your health. But not all body fat is bad news, and you are host to a spectrum of adipose tissues, including white, brown and beige varieties. And while having too much of certain kinds can increase your risk for disease, other kinds have the exact opposite effect.
FAT — WAT FAT?
First things first: Body fat and dietary fat are not the same thing. “Dietary fat is a calorie-dense macronutrient found in food, while body fat is [energy] stored in the human body,” explains Corey Phelps, an NASM-certified personal trainer and nutritional expert. Healthy dietary fat comes from foods such as olive oil, avocado and nuts, and it assists with a host of metabolic functions, including metabolism, nutrient transport, and hormone creation and regulation.
Body fat, for the most part, is the physical manifestation of stored energy — extra ingested calories that the body did not have an immediate use for at the time of their consumption and that are now in holding cells (literally) until it’s time to burn them off. This kind of fat is called white adipose tissue, or WAT, and is what composes that cringe-worthy subcutaneous bulge you see in high-def when trying on a body-hugging garment. WAT contains fewer mitochondria — the brown, calorie-burning powerhouses of cells — making the tissue appear white.
But while unsightly, WAT actually has several functions within your body: It insulates and protects your organs, regulates body temperature and balances hormones such as cortisol, growth hormone and leptin. However, where you store WAT on your person is of primary concern, especially if your body tends to house it viscerally — around your organs. An excess of visceral fat is associated with metabolic dysfunction, heart disease, cancer, Type 2 diabetes and other serious conditions.
Your accumulation of WAT is controllable through exercise and diet, and as long as you’re not consuming more calories than you burn, you should remain in check.
UP TO BAT
Brown adipose tissue, or BAT, is the subject of many current studies, and for a while, it was believed that only babies harbored this kind of fat, which helped them to stay warm. But as it turns out, human beings of all ages have BAT, which is found along the front and back of your neck and in your upper back. Because it contains a lot of mitochondria, BAT is brown in appearance, and unlike WAT, BAT is a highly active tissue, and its purpose is to generate — not store — energy: When you’re cold, BAT fires up to generate heat within your body, which in turn burns a ton of calories and contributes to a leaner body composition, improved blood sugar control and reduced overall body weight. In other words, the more BAT you have, the leaner you will be.
The amount of brown fat you have may decrease as you age, but there are several ways to increase and activate this kind of fat:
Sleep has also been shown to boost BAT production: The more melatonin you produce as a result of quality sleep, the more activated brown fat you have and the higher your calorie-burning capacity, according to a study published in the Journal of Pineal Research.
Turning down the thermostat or going outside in cooler weather can help activate brown fat and even boost its production: Studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine found the sweet spot for BAT activity landed between 61 and 66 degrees. This is where the mitochondria kick in and contribute to the calorie burn, heating you up from the inside out to maintain a normal body temperature.
Feed Your Fat
Some foods take more energy to digest than others, and brown fat appears to play a role in heat generation because of muscle activity in the intestines and other digestive processes, according to researchers from the Technical University of Munich. That same study found that eating a carbohydrate-rich meal had the same thermogenic effect — and activation of brown fat — as did exposure to cold.
Work It Out
Exercise can contribute to the reduction of white adipose tissue, but it also can stimulate the conversion of white fat cells to brown cells: Evidence suggests that exercising boosts uncoupling protein 1, a protein that is present only in brown and beige fat cells, which redirects the energy flow in mitochondria so they produce heat, according to research published in Nature Medicine.
There is a third kind of body fat that exists in pockets within white adipose tissue called beige fat. This specialized tissue contains more mitochondria than WAT but less than BAT, giving it a beige appearance. According to a study published in the International Journal of Obesity, beige cells have the ability to harness heat production by incinerating excess glucose, and more recent research published in PLOS Biology found that blocking certain hormones can boost the activity of beige fat and increase its potential to burn energy. Besides working to increase your brown fat percentage, you also can try to boost your beige, further improving metabolism, body composition and overall health:
The best way to boost your beige fat cell percentage is to exercise. The hormone irisin is secreted from muscles in response to exercise and actually converts white fat cells to beige, effectively turning them into furnaces rather than storage units. And according to research, the best form of exercise to increase irisin production is high-intensity interval training.
Cuckoo for Cocoa
Outside of exercising, a very recent study published in the June 2019 issue of Molecular Nutrition & Food Research suggests that supplements also might be of use: Scientists discovered that the phenolic compounds in cocoa bean shells can cause the browning of white fat cells, and further studies are being done to determine whether these shells can help assist in the fight against obesity.
You eat, but then an hour later your stomach is screaming. Here, what’s going on, and how to stay satisfied.
Most of the time, hunger has an obvious cause, like not eating enough or choosing meals that don’t contain the right amount of nutrients (carbs, protein, and fat), says D. Enette Larson-Meyer, a professor of human nutrition and the director of the Nutrition and Exercise Laboratory at the University of Wyoming. Other times, though, it’s mysterious. Your appetite appears to defy explanation, and nothing you eat seems to tamp it down. But those hunger pangs have a cause, too. Read on to find out what’s behind them and how to fuel up to feel comfortably full.
Salt is stoking your appetite
Yes, it makes you thirsty in the short term. But over time, a high intake of salt actually causes you to drink less but eat more, recent research shows. after weeks on a high-salt diet, participants in studies published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation reported being hungrier. Salt triggers the body to conserve water, which it does by producing a compound called urea. that process requires a lot of calories, so it revs up your appetite, the study’s authors explain. processed food often has hidden sodium, so aim to eat more of the fresh stuff.
When we’re aimless, we look for something stimulating, like food, says Rachel Herz, author of Why You Eat What You Eat. and research shows we tend to seek out things like chips and chocolate. “if this sounds familiar, tune in to your body and notice true signs of hunger, like a grumbling stomach,” Rachel says. “When you eat, focus on the experience and enjoy it.” the more you do this, the better you’ll get at distinguishing between physical and emotional hunger.
You need veggies at breakfast
When you start the day with starchy, quick-digesting carbs – like cereal, waffles, or toast – you “wake up” your hunger hormones and make them more active all day, says Brooke Alpert, a dietitian, and nutritionist. that’s because these foods cause your blood sugar to spike, leading to a rise in insulin and cortisol (a hormone that promotes fat storage), which makes your blood sugar plummet, so you get hungry again. this up-and-down cycle happens whenever you eat starchy foods, but research shows that it’s most volatile when you wake up with an empty stomach. to keep your blood sugar stable, Brooke suggests having a breakfast of protein and low-starch carbs, like eggs and vegetables, and saving bread and grains for lunch and dinner.
You’re on the edge
If anxiety and worry are keeping you up at night, the lack of sleep can increase your appetite, D. Enette says. plus, “stress raises your levels of cortisol, which can stimulate hunger,” she adds. to decompress, try hot yoga. Studies show that working out in the heat can prolong the natural appetite-suppressing effect of exercise, while yoga helps you relax.
You eat too often
Grazing all day throws your hunger hormones out of whack, says Brooke, author of The Diet Detox. “When you eat small bites and don’t sit down to real meals, you never feel truly hungry or full,” she says. “Eventually, your appetite cues become muted, and you’re vaguely hungry all the time.” instead, eat every four hours or so. have a meal with protein, fiber, and healthy fat three times a day, and supplement with good-for-you snacks when meals are more than four hours apart. a smart choice: walnuts. Eating them activates an area of the brain that regulates hunger and cravings, a recent study found.
At first glance, mushrooms might seem unimpressive, but apparently they are the new “it” food and are good for more than just mealtime. “Mushrooms have been used for medicinal purposes for centuries,” says Bart Wolbers, MS, a researcher at Nature Builds Health. “Though each variety has its own unique properties, they are generally known for promoting heart health, well-being and immunity.” Here’s what you can expect from a few popular varieties.
This mushroom adds a distinct flavor to spaghetti, stir-fry or salads, and recent research shows it can aid in heart health and help decrease blood pressure. Shiitake also can help reduce cholesterol because of the presence of compounds called sterols and beta-glucan, according to a Japanese study. “Beta-glucans are a fiber that makes the gut lining thicker,” Wolbers explains. “That thicker lining prevents the dietary absorption of cholesterol.”
Mushrooms can serve as a flavorful meat substitute in plant-centric meals, and their inherent umami or savory essence makes them a great addition to many dishes.
Because of their woody texture and bitter flavor, reishi mushrooms are typically found only in supplement form. This variety is reputed to reduce inflammation and help prevent the onset of certain cancers by acting as an antioxidant when ingested, scavenging for and disposing of free radicals that can cause cellular damage. A study published in Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications determined that reishi may even inhibit the proliferation of breast cancer cells.
Cremini, Portobello and Button
Fun fact: All three of these mushrooms are of the same variety, and it’s simply the level of maturity that dictates its name — portobello being the most mature. Another fun fact: Mushrooms are the only natural source of vitamin D in the produce aisle, and these three contain the most. All three are also excellent for GI health. “They contain conjugated linolenic acid, which improves gut function and provides your system with new gut bacteria, which you may lack from other food sources,” Wolbers says.
If you’re looking to improve brain function and prevent brain disease, then this mushroom should be on your radar. “The carbohydrates in lion’s mane can travel to the brain and reduce oxidative stress, a damaging process that is the byproduct of both energy creation and aging,” Wolbers says. In studies done on aging mice, lion’s mane mushrooms induced an improvement in recognition memory. “A compound called NGF stimulates the creation of new nerve cells while also helping existing cells thrive,” Wolbers says. “Through that mechanism memory is also improved.
Known as the “dancing mushroom” in Japanese, maitake mushrooms may help prevent the side effects associated with diabetes by normalizing the immune system. “Type 2 diabetes is characterized by an excessive immune response and has some characteristics of an autoimmune disorder,” Wolbers explains. They also show promise in promoting fertility by counteracting polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition that inhibits ovulation in women. “Maitake helps reverse insulin resistance, which is a risk factor for PCOS,” Wolbers adds.
Another area in which fungi are improving health is in the realm of cancer treatment. “Medicinal mushrooms are thought to improve immune system function and reduce the incidence of treatment-related side effects,” says Jonathan Stegall, M.D., oncologist and director of the Center for Advanced Medicine in Atlanta. “Some studies also show them to have a cancer-cell killing effect.”
Stegall mainly uses maitake, turkey tail, reishi, shiitake and almond mushrooms in his treatment protocols because their clinical prowess is the strongest. “The evidence for their exact effects is limited, so medicinal mushrooms should serve as a complementary therapy alongside more traditional treatments rather than as stand-alone therapies,” Stegall advises.
Not all oncologists are familiar with the use of mushrooms in cancer treatment, so ask plenty of questions before deciding on a practitioner. And of important note: Patients on blood thinners may be at an increased risk for mushroom treatment because of the anticoagulant and antiplatelet properties of the fungi.
Trading out half your ground meat/poultry for chopped mushrooms adds vitamins and fiber while reducing sodium and fat, according to Eric Davis, a spokesperson for The Mushroom Council. The flavor and texture are hardly affected, and carnivores and veggie-averse kids will never know what’s missing or, more importantly, what’s been added!
Add mushrooms to a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Combine mushrooms and turkey in a large bowl, mixing with hands. Place a skillet over medium-high heat, then add turkey mixture. Cook, stirring often until it begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add onions and cook another 7 minutes, or until turkey is no longer pink. Drain excess liquid, then add barbecue sauce and heat through. Preheat broiler to high. Cut sweet potatoes in half lengthwise and scoop out the flesh. Add flesh to turkey mixture and stir to combine. Place potato shells on a baking sheet and spoon in turkey mixture, topping with cheese. Broil 5 minutes, or until cheese is brown and bubbling. Remove, sprinkle with scallions and serve.
Recipe adapted from TheMushroomCouncil.com.
TURKEY AND MUSHROOM BARBECUE STUFFED SWEET POTATOES
In different ways, these 10 nutrients address changes that occur as we live longer. In some cases, our need for the nutrient simply increases with age. In others, a supplement can help our bodies counteract situations that are more likely to develop later in life, including lack of energy, inflammation that underlies most age-related diseases, and a less-effective immune system that lowers resistance to infections and slows healing from injuries or surgeries.
COQ10 (COENZYME Q10)
A vitamin-like substance, CoQ10 feeds mitochondria, the energy-generating components of our cells. Our bodies naturally make CoQ10, but levels decline as we get older—just when we need it most. Low levels of the nutrient have been linked to heart disease, brain diseases, cancer, and diabetes.
In studies, CoQ10 supplements improved heart function in people with heart failure; protected the heart against damage from some chemotherapy drugs; improved exercise performance, sugar metabolism, blood pressure, brain function, and fertility; and helped relieve chronic fatigue syndrome, gum disease, diabetic neuropathy, and headaches.
We can get small quantities of CoQ10 from food: 9–12 mg in a 3.5-oz. serving of organ meats; a few milligrams in muscle meats and fish; and less than 1 mg per serving from most plant foods. But these amounts are too small to be therapeutic.
Typical daily doses: 30–200 mg, or more to treat diseases.
PQQ (PYRROLOQUINOLINE QUINONE)
An antioxidant found in trace amounts in plant foods, PQQ promotes the growth of energy-producing mitochondria in all cells and enhances the health of nerve cells. Lab studies show that it may help inhibit the growth of brain plaques and cancer cells.
Preliminary human studies of PQQ have shown that it can enhance memory, mood, and other mental functions. It also promotes sleep and reduces fatigue and inflammation. Because both CoQ10 and PQQ enhance mitochondria, they are often combined in supplements.
Typical daily doses: 10–40 mg, often combined with CoQ10.
A powerful antioxidant that comes from certain algae, astaxanthin gives salmon and other sea creatures their pink color because they eat the algae. Astaxanthin protects skin against damage from the sun’s UV rays—which are well known for speeding up aging—and reduces signs of aging that stem from a slower turnover of skin cells as we get older.
Studies have found that astaxanthin enhances skin elasticity and reduces wrinkles, age spots, and skin inflammation. Because of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, it can also enhance muscle recovery and decrease soreness after exercise. It’s also been shown to help relieve carpal tunnel syndrome and is taken for heart, brain, eye, and overall health.
Typical daily doses: 4–12 mg. Astaxanthin can also be found in topical skin creams and serums.
The main therapeutic ingredient in red wine, resveratrol has a beneficial effect on sirtuins, enzymes that control various pathways involved in the aging process. In animal studies, it has extended lifespan.
By activating sirtuins, resveratrol enhances the body’s ability to withstand stress and may slow down the aging process. Studies have found that it helps to lower blood pressure and cholesterol; improves heart, brain, and joint health; and helps to protect against cancer.
In addition to wine, resveratrol is found in grapes, some berries, peanuts, and other foods, but amounts are too small to produce the therapeutic effects observed in studies. Supplements are generally made from Japanese knotweed (Polygonum Cuspidatum), a rich plant source of resveratrol.
Typical daily doses: 200 mg or more.
Scientists became interested in fish oil after studies in the 1970s discovered that Greenland Eskimos enjoyed surprisingly healthy hearts, despite eating a very high-fat diet. The omega-3 fats in fish oil—EPA and DHA—seemed to be responsible. Since then, many studies have been exploring just how fish oil produces beneficial effects.
Fish oil reduces levels of triglycerides, blood fats that contribute to diabetes and heart disease when elevated. It also lowers inflammation in plaque deposits within artery walls, which reduces the odds of a heart attack or stroke being caused by rupture of the plaque. Where blood pressure is elevated, omega-3 fats can help lower it.
Reducing chronic inflammation— which generally increases as we get older—is the mechanism underlying the various benefits of fish oil. Studies have found that it has therapeutic effects on depression, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, psoriasis, arthritis, and other inflammation-related conditions.
Typical daily doses: 500 mg of a combination of EPA plus DHA, usually found in 1,000 mg fish oil; 1,000–2,000 mg of an EPA-DHA combination daily for health conditions. Vegan sources of EPA and DHA are also available.
A patented extract from French maritime pine bark, Pycnogenol enhances blood circulation, reduces inflammation, and helps maintain healthy skin and joint tissues. It binds to collagen and elastin, which give skin and other tissues structure. It also helps to regenerate hyaluronic acid, which maintains moisture.
Studies have found that Pycnogenol supplements may help improve memory, vision, attention span, blood pressure, cholesterol, asthma, menstrual problems, erectile dysfunction, gum disease, osteoarthritis, skin conditions, blood sugar in diabetics, menopausal symptoms, leg cramps, and jet lag.
Typical daily doses: 30–150 mg.
With age, risks increase for eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration and cataracts and reading glasses become all too common. Lutein is an essential and well-studied nutrient for eye health. It protects eyes against damage from UV rays, aging, and eyestrain from blue light that emanates from electronic devices. For eye health, it works synergistically with zeaxanthin.
Recent research has found that lutein is also needed for a healthy brain. Studies have found that lutein supplements increase blood flow to the brain, protect it against damage, and enhance memory, attention, and overall mental function.
Typical daily doses: 10 mg lutein with 2 mg zeaxanthin.
TURMERIC OR CURCUMIN
Curcumin is the key active ingredient in turmeric, the plant that gives curry its yellow color. In studies, supplements of both turmeric and curcumin have reduced inflammation and provided relief from a wide variety of conditions, including different forms of arthritis, low back pain, depression, Crohn’s disease, heartburn, genital herpes, HIV, and inflammation after surgery.
Although many nutrients decrease inflammation, turmeric and/or curcumin are especially helpful for inflammatory conditions, whether they affect joints, the heart, the digestive system, or any other area. And these often develop later in life.
Typical daily doses: Follow product instructions, as extracts vary.
Zinc lozenges are popular as a cold remedy, but the mineral is essential for ongoing healthy immune function. Yet, both zinc intake and immunity tend to decline with age.
Zinc is needed for many processes in the human body, and lack of it manifests in ways similar to the aging process, with increased susceptibility to infections and diseases such as atherosclerosis and cancer, poor wound healing, and degenerative diseases of the brain and nervous system. The technical term for this decline, “immunosenescence,” means an aging immune system.
Studies of zinc supplements have found that it reduces infections, improves healing from injuries and many diseases, and helps resolve skin conditions—sometimes making warts disappear. Typical daily doses: 15 mg (an amount found in many multivitamins), or more.
Two types of protein powders can be especially beneficial for healthy aging: whey and collagen. Each delivers different benefits—for muscles and connective tissues in joints and skin—and the two are complementary.
Research shows that whey is most effective at maintaining and rebuilding muscle in older people. It works best when combined with strength-training exercises. It’s especially beneficial in cases where recovery from injury or illness have made people less active than usual, as inactivity speeds up age-related muscle loss. Some protein powders also include concentrated greens for added nutrients.
Collagen is a building block of connective tissues in skin, joints, blood vessels, and organs. Our bodies produce collagen, but that process slows down with age. Collagen protein can help buck that trend.
We follow rules in areas of our lives where we are successful— and we need them around food and exercise, too, to stay fit, strong, and at our ideal weight.
“What can I eat?” This is a question I hear often. So many of us want someone else to tell us what foods we can and can’t eat. At first thought, that seems to make life so much easier. The problem is that human nature is such that when we are given rules from outside ourselves our instinct is to rebel. However, this does not mean that we can lose weight and get healthy without an eating plan; obviously, the opposite is true.
MAKE YOUR OWN RULES
For PERMANENT change, you must follow rules. But to get the results you want, you must make your own rules, and these rules need to make sense for you. What foods are you going to eat and what foods aren’t you going to eat? You have rules in other areas of your life where you are successful—you need them around food and exercise, too.
In fact, the reason you struggle weight and/or health is not because there is something innately deficient in your life. It’s not because you are an out of control person, weak-willed, or had a more difficult childhood than everybody else (although, please give yourself compassion for all the challenges you have faced).
The great news is you have followed rules for success in other areas of your life, so you know how to do it! These are areas where you base your actions on the results you want—not on transient feelings.
YOU ARE NOT WEAK-WILLED
If you want to understand how fit people stay that way, realize that they are simply doing what you do naturally in areas of your life where you are successful.
Does she have some super inner power that you don’t have? Of course, not!
You will learn to do the same once you tune into the reality that it’s not about dieting, it’s about following food and lifestyle rules that work for you, while reprogramming your subconscious.
Before you get too down on yourself and call yourself weak for living so long without following food rules, realize that this is most likely because following food rules wasn’t modeled to you. In the same way, people who break social rules do so because treating others with respect failed to be instilled in them as a pattern of behavior.
NOW IS THE TIME
It’s never too late to create rules for yourself. The first step is believing that they are necessary. To do that, take a moment and think about what makes you successful in other areas of your life. Instead of seeing willpower as something that you don’t possess, take a moment to reflect on the amazing amount of strength and courage you have within. If you can’t see strength and courage inside yourself, take a moment to acknowledge the incredible hardship it is to carry around excess weight and still lead a productive life. Now, let’s turn your strong will into a tool that will allow you to be happy, healthy, and live at your ideal weight.
In every area of your life where you are getting the results you want, you have rules. Do you blurt out your every thought? Unlikely! You have rules about the way you treat people and about what you do and don’t say to others. You have rules about how you care for your children and pets, and you follow them—whether you feel like it or not.
Create rules with food that will lead you to be successful. Rules are not predicated on whether you feel like adhering to them in any given moment. Rules are rules because they lead to specific outcomes that are desirable.
Let’s take a look at some good examples of rules to pick from. Think about what makes sense for you and your lifestyle. Remember that, ultimately, you must make your own rules.
Rule #1: What foods do you eat?
“I eat clean food, from the earth, in as natural a state as possible, as unprocessed as possible. Example: If I am going to eat bread, it will only be made from whole wheat flour, water, and sea salt.” This rule alone would limit your bread intake due to convenience, and yet you wouldn’t be deprived because you could always go buy a loaf of natural wheat bread at a bakery and keep it in your freezer, having a small slice at a time if you feel that you need bread in your diet/eating regime. Or, “I can eliminate bread all together because I see it as a trigger food that puts fat on my body.”
Rule #2: Eat with Balance in Mind
“If I do eat a carb/starch like a whole grain cracker, I ONLY eat it with a protein food (chicken, fish, meat) and a vegetable so my blood sugar stays balanced. I never just sit and eat a box of crackers plain.”
Rule #3: Enjoy the Healthy Foods You Select
“I make sure to have protein and vegetables (fresh) with every meal, with only a small amount of complex carbs (like a whole grain or root vegetable) and healthy fat (such as extra virgin olive oil, or a little cheese or nuts) to make the food taste good.” The key is to enjoy everything that you do eat so you don’t feel deprived or like you are dieting; however, have only JUST enough “fattening food” to make it taste good.
Rule #4: Stick with the Basics
“I continuously eat a group of foods that are healthy and appeal to my tastes.” Studies show that the less variety in your food choices, the more likely you are to be at your ideal weight. Know what foods you do and don’t eat and stick to the plan (without ever thinking that you are on a diet).
Rule #5: Get Rid of Trigger Foods
“I eliminate the foods that are triggers for me. I know they are triggers because when I eat them, I eat too much in general, or I crave more of that specific food.” Get rid of trigger foods and leave the area when they are being served if possible, especially in the early stages of your weight loss/healthy eating quest.
Rule #6: Don’t Let Yourself Get TOO Hungry
Eat healthy treats that aren’t trigger foods when you are physically hungry. You may enjoy almond butter, cheese, avocado with healthy crackers, or other “treats” that don’t create fuel the compulsion to consume too much food. This is what “everything in moderation” means.
The more balanced and healthy you are, the easier it is to have small amounts of healthy treats without reaching a “tipping point”— that place where you are overeating or binge eating.
Rule #7: Don’t Starve Yourself
Eat only when you are physically hungry and eat just enough to satisfy your physical hunger. Make sure that you aren’t too hungry because when your blood sugar dips, you often can’t think straight enough to make healthy choices.
Rule #8: Plan Ahead
Make sure you have plenty of healthy food available at all times. I never leave the house without a healthy snack in my bag. If you go to a restaurant, plan what you are going to order ahead of time. If you’ll be on the go all day, pack enough food with you so you won’t find yourself starving with no good food choices to make. A new mother doesn’t leave the house without a diaper bag. You need to treat yourself like a baby who needs your care.
Rule #9: Honor Your Emotions
Let yourself feel your feelings, but don’t let them dictate your behavior. Express them, if that is the wise thing to do, or write them down. Burn them off by taking a walk or going for a swim. NEVER eat just because you are feeling a certain way. Let your emotions pass like the weather.
Rule #10: Stay Focused on Your Goal
Have a plan to eat healthy and move your body every day. Not because you have to but because you want to! If ever you feel weak, just think of the alternative to healthy living and know that it’s not an option for you. See and feel yourself as if you’ve already achieved your ideal weight. Practice meditation or self-hypnosis every day and imagine yourself healthy and strong.
All those greens you’re nomming? You might be missing the benefits if you’re making these mistakes.
In all likelihood, you think a lot more about eating foods than about digesting them. But that’s an oversight that can affect your overall nutrition and health, according to nutritionist Ashley Koff, Your diet may be full of berries, spinach, quinoa, and salmon, Koff says, but unless your body is efficiently breaking down and effectively absorbing those foods, you’re not getting their full benefits.
The digestive process is complex. It starts with enzymes in your saliva that break down the starches in your food as you chew. Acids in your stomach activate enzymes that dismantle proteins. Next, the food travels to the small intestine, which breaks down fats and absorbs most nutrients, which are ferried into your bloodstream, says Dr. Julia Greer, a professor and course director of digestion and nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
But along the way, problems arise: stress, dietary issues, food sensitivities, and even your workout can disrupt this process, preventing you from getting everything your food has to offer. That’s why it pays to be proactive about improving your digestion, experts say. Making a few tweaks to how you eat can add up to other key health benefits as well, including gaining energy, losing weight, feeling less bloated and regulating your bathroom trips. These tips will maximize your healthy eating efforts.
1. Slow Down
If you’re usually the first person to clear your plate, there’s a good chance you’re not chewing your meals thoroughly. That’s key because chewing breaks down food and activates enzymes in your mouth that help with digestion, says Dr. Woodson Merrell, an integrative medicine specialist in New York City. In fact, research from Purdue University found that when people chewed almonds 40 times, they absorbed more healthy fat than when they chewed them just 10 times, making nutrients like vitamin E more accessible. “Chewing breaks almonds’ cell walls so that it’s easier for us to digest them,” says study author Dr. Richard D. Mattes. You don’t have to count, though. Just chew until your food is a mushy consistency, Merrell says.
2. Calm Your Dining Scene
When you’re under pressure, your brain releases stress hormones that make your heart beat faster and give you a rush of adrenaline. The digestive process then slows down or stops so your body can devote all its energy to dealing with the stress. That’s why being anxious or even multitasking during meals can interfere with nutrient absorption, Koff says. So try to relax as much as possible when you dine. Put your computer to sleep instead of skimming headlines, and focus on your companions over dinner. Take the chance to savor each bite.
3. Ease Out On Workouts
Too many HIIT routines can also stress your digestive system. The physical effort of a tough workout causes your system to divert energy away from digestion, Koff says. Balance the hard-core sessions in your schedule with lower-key ones, like yoga, which can help keep your digestion on track. Vigorous exercise can also deplete your levels of magnesium, a mineral that’s critical for digestion; replenish it by eating beans, nuts, whole grains, and leafy greens.
4. Create Key Food Combos
Certain nutrients are better absorbed when they’re eaten together. For example, your body has a tough time taking in the type of iron found in vegetarian sources like spinach, but consuming it with a food rich in Vitamin C, like red bell pepper, makes the process easier. Fat-soluble Vitamins A, D, K, and E need fatty acids for absorption, so pair foods that are rich in these nutrients (many vegetables are) with a source of healthy fat, like nuts or oil. To get more calcium from your yogurt or kale, increase your intake of foods that are high in Vitamin D, such as salmon.
4. Take Stock Post-Meal
If certain dishes make you bloated or constipated or give you diarrhea, you could have a food sensitivity or intolerance, which is relatively common. For instance, about 65 percent of people worldwide are sensitive to lactose, the sugar found in dairy. High-fructose foods like grapes and bananas and those with gluten, like bread and pasta, are other possible culprits. The inflammation you experience when you eat those foods can inhibit nutrient absorption in your small intestine, Greer says. If you have any of these symptoms, ask your doctor about getting tested.
5. Sip Smarter
You’ve heard that you shouldn’t drink your calories, but now there is a major exception: It turns out that the body is better able to absorb nutrients from certain types of juice than from whole fruit. For instance, one study published in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research found that some carotenoids were almost twice as readily absorbed from orange juice than fresh oranges. The fiber in whole fruit may bind to certain micronutrients, keeping them from being absorbed in the small intestine, says study author Ralf Schweiggert, of the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart, Germany. But since fiber is key for overall health, he recommends having just one serving of fruit juice a day and eating the rest of your fruit whole.
You can also have a smoothie, which retains the fiber from fruits and vegetables but still improves absorption of certain nutrients, according to the Journal of Food Science. That’s because the blade of a high-speed blender breaks through the cell walls in foods better than chewing does, says study author José Miguel Aguilera of the Universidad Católica de Chile. Both Koff and Merrell advise their patients to drink vegetable smoothies.
6. Care For Your Guts
Up to 30 percent of the protein and carbs you eat reach your colon undigested, where your gut bacteria break them down, the journal Nutrition in Clinical Practice reports. But just a few days of a high-fat diet can disrupt the balance of good and bad bacteria in your system, throwing off this process. Consider a probiotic supplement to boost the number of good bugs whenever you’re off your usual diet routine for a few days. One probiotic strain, in particular, GanedenBC30, has been found to help your body break down proteins.
7. Try an enzyme
There will be times when your digestion is thrown off track, like on vacation. That’s when digestive enzyme supplements can help. These pills work just like your body’s own enzymes to help break food down so you can absorb the nutrients more easily, Koff says.
Scientists from the University of Nottingham have discovered that drinking a cup of coffee can stimulate ‘brown fat’, the body’s own fat-fighting defenses, which could be the key to tackling obesity and diabetes.
The pioneering study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, is one of the first to be carried out in humans to find components which could have a direct effect on ‘brown fat’ functions, an important part of the human body which plays a key role in how quickly we can burn calories as energy. Brown adipose tissue (BAT), also known as brown fat, is one of two types of fat found in humans and other mammals. Initially only attributed to babies and hibernating mammals, it was discovered in recent years that adults can have brown fat too. Its main function is to generate body heat by burning calories (as opposed to white fat, which is a result of storing excess calories).
People with a lower body mass index (BMI) therefore have a higher amount of brown fat. Brown fat works in a different way to other fat in your body and produces heat by burning sugar and fat, often in response to cold. Increasing its activity improves blood sugar control as well as improving blood lipid levels and the extra calories burnt help with weight loss. However, until now, no one has found an acceptable way to stimulate its activity in humans. This is the first study in humans to show that something like a cup of coffee can have a direct effect on our brown fat functions.
The potential implications of our results are pretty big, as obesity is a major health concern for society and we also have a growing diabetes epidemic and brown fat could potentially be part of the solution in tackling them.” The team started with a series of stem cell studies to see if caffeine would stimulate brown fat. Once they had found the right dose, they then moved on to humans to see if the results were similar. The team used a thermal imaging technique, which they’d previously pioneered, to trace the body’s brown fat reserves. The non-invasive technique helps the team to locate brown fat and assess its capacity to produce heat. The results were positive and we now need to ascertain that caffeine as one of the ingredients in the coffee is acting as the stimulus or if there’s another component helping with the activation of brown fat.
Benefits of coffee drinking revealed by scientific research
Although coffee originates in Ethiopia and the Arabian Peninsula, it is one of the favorite drinks in the Western world and is widely consumed in Europe and America. Its main compound, caffeine, is a psychoactive drug with important effects on our nervous system and, in recent times, has been the subject of numerous scientific studies.
There is no doubt that coffee has lights and shadows, but as research progresses it appears that its benefits outweigh its harms. Coffee is not only a powerful stimulant (something that is good for some things, bad for others), it also has a vasodilator effect and seems to have a preventive effect on the onset of diseases such as diabetes or some types of cancer. These are the ten reasons why coffee is beneficial to health.
1. Keeps us alert
Caffeine is the most important component of coffee and the most consumed psychoactive in the world. Just after drinking coffee, caffeine acts on the brain, blocking a neurotransmitter, adenosine, which increases other substances such as dopamine or norepinephrine, which accelerate brain activity.
Many human studies show that coffee improves various aspects of brain function. This includes memory, mood, vigilance, energy levels, reaction times and overall cognitive function. In exchange for these benefits, coffee keeps us awake longer, which can lead to sleep disturbances. That’s why most experts recommend no more than four cups a day.
2. Helps us burn fat
Caffeine is present in most dietary supplements that are supposed to help us lose weight. It is one of the few natural substances that help to burn fat. The only bad news is that these positive effects of caffeine are diminishing in heavy drinkers.
3. Improve our physical performance
Many athletes drink several cups of coffee before competing, as caffeine increases adrenaline levels. This hormone prepares our body for exceptional physical exertion: it causes fat cells to break down body fat, releasing it as free fatty acids, which we use as fuel when we exercise.
4. Contains essential nutrients
We usually think of coffee as a simple mixture of water and caffeine, but the infusion has many other nutrients essential to our body. A cup of coffee contains riboflavin (vitamin B2), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), manganese, potassium, magnesium, and niacin.
Coffee is also the largest source of antioxidants in the Western diet, as it has more than most fruits and vegetables.
5. Reduces the risk of diabetes
Type 2 diabetes, the most common type 2 diabetes, can be prevented through healthy lifestyle habits: maintaining the right weight and exercising. But caffeine also seems to play a role in the equation. Studies have shown that people who drink coffee have a 23-50% lower risk of diabetes. There is research that raises this effect by up to 67%. Why this happens is not clear, but there is enough research to say that, whatever the case, coffee seems to prevent the onset of the disease.
6. Reduces the possibility of neurodegenerative diseases
To date, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s, the two major neurodegenerative diseases, and they are increasingly common due to the progressive aging of the population. In addition to healthy lifestyle habits, which seem to prevent the onset of both disorders, it seems that coffee consumption also influences their development.
Studies show that coffee drinkers may have 65% less chance of Alzheimer’s, and 32-60% (according to studies) of Parkinson’s disease. Caffeine seems to be the main culprit, as decaffeinated drinkers show no advantage.
7. Protects the liver from cirrhosis
The liver is our most voluminous viscera and the one that fulfills more functions in our organism. One of the most common diseases in this is cirrhosis, closely related to alcoholism, but also to hepatitis. Combining spirits with coffees will not spare you from suffering from the ailment if you do not drink moderately, but it seems that people who drink more than 4 cups of coffee a day have an 80% less chance of suffering from the ailment.
8. Fight depression
According to a Harvard University study, the risk of depression decreases when we increase coffee consumption, at least in women, which is what the study was done with. Women who drank four or more cups of coffee a day developed depression by 20% less. Again, caffeine is responsible for this reduction, since women who drank decaffeinated showed no improvement.
Moderate coffee consumption can also significantly reduce the likelihood of suicide. According to the group of researchers at Harvard University’s School of Public Health in Boston, those who drink coffee daily kill themselves up to 50% less than people who don’t drink it at all or who drink decaffeinated coffee. The proper amount is between two and four cups of coffee a day.
9. Reduces the risk of certain types of cancer
A group of researchers from the American Nutrition Society found that high coffee consumption reduces the risk of colon cancer. The study was conducted on more than half a million people and ruled out the benefits of decaffeinated coffee. Finally, a Swedish study released last year also linked high caffeine intake (five or more cups daily) to reduced breast cancer.
10. May reduce the risk of heart attack
Caffeine is known to increase blood pressure, but it does not increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, quite the opposite: it seems to prevent heart attacks.
One of the top academic authorities on the subject, Professor Peter Martin, who heads the Institute for Coffee Studies at Vanderbilt University, has criticized the “misleading association” between caffeine and heart disease: “Last June, a report was published that lists several of the studies carried out over the last decade that precisely link moderate consumption with a reduction in the risk of heart failure. These benefits would only disappear if more than four or five coffees were consumed per day.
Constantly battling the bulge or just not sleeping or eating properly? Here’s a must-read for the sake of your heart health.
Heart disease is a leading cause of death for women globally. Here, we look at the latest research about heart health, and speak to experts, including Head of the PreClinical Disease and Prevention Unit and cardiologist Associate Professor Melinda Carrington, to see what you can do to improve your odds…
1. You can be slim and still be at risk of heart problems
If you have a family history of heart disease, being slim isn’t enough to protect you from a heart attack or stroke. Because if your mother, father or a sibling has a heart attack before 60, that means your risk of heart attack is increased, too.
“And you can be slim but have high cholesterol due to your genes,” says cardiologist Assoc Prof Carrington.
WHAT TO DO: If you have a family history of heart problems or high cholesterol, speak to your GP about changes that can reduce your risk of poor heart health. Your GP may also recommend medication if you have high cholesterol.
2. The number one risk factor for heart disease is high blood pressure
High blood pressure is called the “silent killer” because often people don’t know they have it. “Yet it is a bigger risk factor for heart problems than obesity,” says Assoc Prof Carrington. Blood pressure can be influenced by family history, too much salt or alcohol in your diet, being overweight and a lack of exercise. The good news is that medications can help control it.
WHAT TO DO: When you see your GP for a check-up or for another health issue, get your blood pressure checked, too.
3. Sleep Matters
“People who are sleep deprived are often stressed and then the body releases stress hormones like cortisol and adrenalin. These hormones drive up blood pressure,” explains Professor Tom Marwick from the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute in Australia. People over the age of 45 who sleep less than six hours have double the risk of stroke or heart attack than people who sleep for longer.
WHAT TO DO: Aim for seven or eight hours of sleep each night.
4. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) could be good for your heart
HRT has been controversial but it may lower the risk of atherosclerosis – the build-up of plaque that damages and blocks the heart’s arteries. The American College of Cardiology reports that research has found women using HRT are 30 percent less likely to die than menopausal women who don’t use HRT and 36 percent less likely to have signs of high heart attack risk.
WHAT TO DO: If you are menopausal, discuss the possible benefits of HRT for your heart health with your GP.
5. You can have a heart attack and not even realize it
“Half of all heart attacks are silent – they happen without women realizing it because women can have different symptoms to men. Women don’t always get crushing chest pain,” says Assoc Prof Carrington. Up to 40 percent of women don’t have that classic heart pain.
WHAT TO DO: Recognise the signs of heart attack for women – shortness of breath, pain in the jaw or back, nausea, clamminess and fatigue. If you experience possible symptoms, call 995 immediately.
6. Your five a day should be right
The risk of dying prematurely from health problems drops by almost a third, and the risk of dying from heart disease drops by a quarter, if you have 800 g of fruits and vegetables a day.
WHAT TO DO: Apples, pears, citrus fruit and leafy vegetables are the best for heart health.
7. Don’t just walk the dog…
“For a healthy heart you need to sweat and puff a little,” says Prof Marwick. Your heart is a muscle and like any muscle, using it keeps it strong. Exercise also improves heart disease risk factors like high blood pressure and being overweight.
WHAT TO DO: Aim for 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate activity, such as brisk walking or a game of tennis, or 1.25 to 2.5 hours of vigorous exercise – jogging or aerobics – each week.
8. Painkillers won’t always help
Some over-the-counter painkillers may raise the risk of a heart attack. A large Danish study over 10 years found a 31 percent increased risk of a heart attack when people used non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
WHAT TO DO: Use drugs, such as ibuprofen, with caution and don’t have more than 1,200 mg per day.
9. Lonely hearts
“Loneliness and isolation can activate stress pathways that can lead to depression,” says Prof Marwick. People with depression are four times as likely to have heart disease and you’re also twice as likely to die after a heart disease diagnosis with depression. WHAT TO DO: Know the signs of depression – withdrawing, poor concentration, using alcohol or drugs, weight gain or weight loss, sleep disturbances and feeling like a failure.
Combat loneliness by volunteering or joining a community or interest group.
10. An apple isn’t always good for you
An apple-shaped body is at greater risk of heart problems because excess fat around the stomach is stored internally around the kidneys, liver, digestive organs and pancreas.
WHAT TO DO: Women should aim for a waist measurement of less than 80 cm.
Why is losing weight so hard — and keeping it off even harder? Mechanisms in the brain can sabotage efforts to eat less and avoid unhealthy foods, according to research. However, the following strategies may help your body win its battle with your brain to control weight, which is essential for overall health and limiting stress on aching joints.
Recent research suggests that a dip in activity in the brain’s prefrontal cortex may make you crave high-calorie foods. In an experiment, neuroscientist Cassandra Lowe, Ph.D. of the University of Western Ontario, and colleagues let volunteers eat as much snack food as they wished. At a later session, a device was used to quiet prefrontal cortex activity in volunteers. When offered snacks again, their appetite for chocolate and potato chips spiked, while they shunned low-calorie snacks. (Studies also show that weight gain causes structural changes in the brain that further weaken resolve when choosing between a cheeseburger and a salad, creating a vicious cycle.)
Eating treats like pizza and cookies also activate “reward centers” in the brain, making you desire them more. “But we’re not purely driven by rewards,” says Lowe. “We have other processes that allow control over our behavior.”
STOP THE CYCLE
Exercise boosts activity in the prefrontal cortex, and Lowe showed in another study that volunteers’ appetites for unhealthy snacks decreased after brisk walking. She adds that practicing mindfulness meditation can help you stay focused on choosing healthy foods.
When you eat a meal, fat cells produce the hormone leptin, which travels to the hypothalamus in the brain. When you have consumed enough food to keep your body functioning, leptin delivers a signal to the hypothalamus: “Stop eating, you’re full.” However, brain cells may become less responsive to these signals, which can lead to overeating and weight gain, says endocrinologist Benjamin O’Donnell, MD, of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, in Columbus.
“You don’t feel the usual signals of satiety if you’re eating rapidly,” says Dr. O’Donnell. He suggests keeping a 30-second hourglass by your plate. When you take a bite, flip the timer and let it run out before you take another bite. Over time, you’ll learn the difference between feeling satisfied and stuffed, he says.
When you polish offa pint of Chunky Monkey ice cream at the end of a stressful day, blame your brain’s amygdala. Chronic stress causes it to signal the adrenal glands to churn out cortisol, which (among other roles) increases appetite, usually for high-calorie comfort foods. Studies link persistent stress to obesity, especially belly fat.
Find a way to relax – whether it’s meditation, yoga, prayer or fly fishing – and stick with it.