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Friday, September 30, 2011

Plant Sterols and Cholesterol – What’s the Connection?

Do you know what your cholesterol levels are? September is National Cholesterol Education Month, which is the perfect time to find out. If your numbers are higher than they should be, don’t despair. There are many ways to reduce them naturally─without the unwelcome side effects of cholesterol-lowering drugs like statins.

While you may be familiar with a healthy diet and exercise as drug-free strategies to get your cholesterol back in check, there’s another effective, natural tool you should know about: phytosterols. These are cholesterol-like molecules found in plant foods like seeds, nuts, grains, and legumes. These plant sterols─which are structurally similar to cholesterol─act in the intestine to block cholesterol absorption.

One study noted that increasing your intake of phytosterols may be a practical way to reduce your odds of developing coronary heart disease with minimum risk. In fact, phytosterols can reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol by 10% when consumed at 2 grams per day.1 Another study found that phytosterol intakes of 2 to 3 grams per day reduce LDL cholesterol levels by up to 11%.

So, are you getting enough of these important, cholesterol lowering allies? Maybe not, if you’re like most people. A survey of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) shows that only 10-15% of the population consumes foods supplemented with phytosterols, and phytosterol intake is less than the effective dose.2

If you want to maximize the benefits offered by these natural plant esters, a high-quality supplement is advised, since average dietary intake varies from about 167-437 mg/day. That means that even the healthiest eaters obtain less than half a gram through food alone, whereas 2 grams/day is the goal for measurable cholesterol reduction.3

While some foods like cooking oils, salad dressings, snack bars, juices, and margarines are "fortified" with small amounts of plant sterols, think before consuming these belly-bulking foods. You can obtain plant sterols at far more optimal levels without the calories, fat and unhealthy sugar in a high caliber nutritional supplement. Does that not make better sense─assuming you prefer a sleek waistline along with that healthy heart?

References
1 Curr Opin Lipidol. 2004 Feb;15(1):37-41
2 Orv Hetil. 2009 Mar 15;150(11):483-96
3 Annu Rev Nutr. 2002;22:533-49. Epub 2002 Apr 4
Thursday, September 22, 2011

5 Keys to Boosting Family Fitness

Do you have an active family? Many Americans fall short on exercise, despite their best intentions. September 24 is Family Health & Fitness Day USA, which was created to promote family involvement in physical activity─one of the goals of the U.S. Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health. These tips can help:

Create the time

Making exercise a priority means carving out opportunities on a regular basis. Setting “family fitness appointments” can help busy parents, though all kids need to know is that it’s time for some active fun. If work/school weeks are hectic, zero in on weekends, when schedules tend to be more relaxed.

Power up with breakfast

Kids and adults alike need to launch their day with a healthy meal for all-day energy. Skipping meals and/or consuming simple, refined carbs can deplete your vitality. A protein-rich breakfast shake bolstered with green super foods sets a highly nutritious tone for the day─and improves your odds of being up for exercise later.

Make it fun

Active play is a natural love for most kids, and it’s contagious. Put your laptop aside and engage! You don’t need excessive structure, just grab your bikes, take a nature hike, throw a Frisbee, or simply play tag. Invite friends too. You’ll all enjoy frolicking together while everyone gets fit.

Give active gifts

Rather than a video game or similar toys, choose gifts that invite activity. Think skates, scooters, skateboards, tennis racquets, skis, or surfboards. Treating kids to 3-6 months of gymnastics, ballet or karate makes a great present too, which you can extend if they show they're committed.

Opt for “fitness vacations”

Instead of another trip to Disneyland, how about a family vacation that involves hiking, tennis, horse-back riding, kayaking, or rock climbing? You may be surprised at how this thrills your kids, and you can all still grab some pool/lounge time along the way.

For some families, these hints call for a major shift, but the benefits are profound. Even starting to move in this direction can quickly improve happiness and wellbeing for everyone. Go for it!
Friday, September 16, 2011

Childhood Obesity: What Can We Do About It?

Did you know that September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month? As the President says in his official proclamation,1 one of the greatest responsibilities we have as a nation is to safeguard the health and well-being of our children. Clearly, the national childhood obesity crisis we currently face is extreme, with nearly 1 in 3 American children overweight or obese.

Obesity in children and adults alike is most greatly influenced by environmental and behavioral factors, like unhealthy eating patterns and too little exercise at home and school. The question is, how do we combat it?

As the proclamation points out, there are concrete steps we can all take to alleviate this situation. And we must do so, because obesity does more than damage self esteem and social development. Those extra pounds can also lead to severe, chronic health problems during childhood, adolescence and adulthood, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and asthma.

Along with the "Let's Move!" campaign for kids, the President's Task Force on Childhood Obesity lays out strategies to address this pressing issue, including providing healthier food in schools, increasing opportunities for physical activity, and perhaps most importantly, empowering parents and caregivers with better information about making healthy choices.

One of the most crucial of all tactics in preventing and combating childhood obesity is ensuring that every child’s day begins with a healthy breakfast. A nutritious, low fat, protein rich, antioxidant-packed, easy digesting morning meal can dramatically improve the way children feel physically and emotionally, positively impacting their ability to think, learn and interact with the world. And it leads to better food choices for the rest of the day.

If you’re wondering how you could possibly create a breakfast that fits that impressive description on rushed school mornings, what would you say to 7 minutes? All you need is a blender, some high-quality whey protein powder, frozen fruit, and skim dairy, almond or soy milk.

Most kids love their morning “milkshake,” and you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes for them. Even better if you include a touch of healthy fat and the magic ingredient that delivers 5 servings of green veggies in one tiny scoop.

We’re talking about seriously high-grade nutrition that tastes great too. Don't all children deserve to start their day so advantageously? Here’s to healthy, happy kids─our greatest national treasure.

1http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2010/09/01/presidential-proclamation-national-childhood-obesity-awareness-month
Thursday, September 8, 2011

Drug-Induced Nutrient Depletion: What You Need to Know

Do you take prescription medications? According to the Department of Health and Human Services,1 (HHS) over half of all Americans take at least one prescription drug, with one in six of us taking three─or more. Prescription drug use is clearly on the rise, and increases measurably with age. In fact, 5 out of 6 people 65 and older are taking at least one medication and nearly 50% of them take three or more.

What’s the connection between drugs and nutrients? Well, as you may know, most Americans already fall short on important vitamins and minerals. A recent study entitled "What America's Missing: A 2011 Report on the Nation's Nutrient Gap,"2 revealed that 90 percent of Americans are nutrient deficient. According to the report, 9 out of 10 of us are low in 11 key nutrients, including calcium, vitamin D and potassium.

Toss Rx drugs into the mix, and you add insult to injury. Why? Because both over-the-counter and prescription drugs can alter the absorption and utilization of nutrients that your body needs to function properly, and/or force them to be wastefully excreted. Drug-induced nutrient depletion is a serious issue, and sadly, many patients are totally unaware of it. Here are just a few examples:

Statins

Cholesterol lowering statins like Lipitor and Zocor deplete your levels of CoQ10, a fat-soluble, vitamin-like molecule that promotes oxygen uptake by the cells, providing a crucial "spark plug" for cellular energy production. Research suggests that even a 25% reduction in CoQ10 may cause illness, whereas a 75% reduction can actually be fatal.3 Depending on the statin dose, blood levels of CoQ10 may be reduced by 32% to 52%.4,5

Antibiotics

Since antibiotics disrupt your gastrointestinal flora─friendly bacteria─they can adversely affect key nutrients, specifically B-complex vitamins like B1, B2, B5, B6, and B12, all of which serve many important functions. Compromised GI flora also impairs vitamin K, which may result in bleeding and prolonged clotting time.6,7 Along with replacing these vitamins, probiotics are important allies to help rebuild your friendly, protective gut flora.

Diuretics

Diuretics cause increased fluid and electrolyte loss by changing kidney function. They also deplete potassium as well as forcing it to be excreted, along with thiamine and magnesium, which can cause severe outcomes.8,9 Diuretics can also increase loss of calcium as well as the B-vitamin thiamine. Many patients receiving a diuretic have heart failure, which can be exacerbated by thiamine deficiency.10,11

Learn more about entire categories of commonly used drugs and the wide range of nutrients they deplete with this comprehensive chart.

By now we know even the healthiest among us would be well advised to protect ourselves with a high-quality, daily multi-vitamin/mineral formula. However, if you take any medications─even Tylenol or Advil─that daily nutritional safegaurd is more important than ever.

References
1 http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/hus.htm
2 http://www.whymilk.com/pdfs/what_americas_missing.pdf
3 Drugs Exp Clin Res. 1985;11(8):539-45.
4 Clin Pharmacol Ther 1995;57:62-6
5 Arch Neurol 2004;61:889-92
6 Scand J Infect Dis Suppl 1986;49:17-30
7 Eur J Cancer Prev 1997;6:S43-5
8 J Am Diet Assoc 1991;91:66-73
9 Am J Med 1987;82:38-47
10 Am J Med 1995;98:485-90
11 Int J Vitam Nutr Res 1994;64:113-8
Monday, September 5, 2011

The Dukan Diet: What You Need to Know

Have you heard of the Dukan Diet? This high protein, low fat, low cholesterol weight loss program was created by Dr Pierre Dukan─a general practitioner in Paris─in his efforts to help overweight patients achieve healthy, lasting weight loss. What sets this diet apart from countless other slim down plans?

For starters, Dukan starts with the end in mind. This doctor realized that while anyone can lose weight in the short term, keeping it off permanently is the real challenge. So, he devised a system that helps prevent dieters from regaining that deleted fat. The Dukan Diet is essentially a 4-phase approach:

• Phase 1 – Attack Phase
• Phase 2 – Cruise Phase
• Phase 3 – Consolidation Phase
• Phase 4 – Stabilization Phase

Rather than requiring you to count calories, the Dukan plan offers 100 foods that can be consumed in whatever quantities you like, though naturally, reasonable portion control will benefit anyone trying to improve their eating habits for good. Examples of these 100 foods include lean meats, seafood, chicken, fish, non-fat dairy products, and vegetables like tomatoes, leafy greens, cucumbers, mushrooms, etc. Check out the "100" foods here:

The only significant omission on the list is whey protein powder, which is one of the most important foods available for anyone wishing to reach and maintain permanent weight loss. Starting your day with a low-calorie, filling, nutrient-packed whey protein shake will dramatically boost your chances of eating lean and healthy all day.

Protein-dense foods form the foundation of this highly successful weight loss program. As long as the item is on the "100" list─which again, should include whey protein─you can eat it whenever you like, consume enough to be satisfied, and still lose weight. How can that be?

The trick is in the satiety factor. High-protein foods fill you up and keep you satisfied over time. Many other Dukan “100” foods are low calorie but high volume, meaning they’re fiber-packed and water-dense. This makes them both refreshing and filling for a scant number of calories. All these foods help keep hunger at bay so effectively that mindless eating, boredom snacking, and emotional nibbling are all less likely.

Another benefit is that after the first few days on the diet, many people find their cravings for sweets and treats greatly diminished, which is largely due to breaking free from the vicious blood sugar spike/crash cycle so many Americans are enslaved by through an excessive consumption of refined carbs/sugar.

That alone is reason to pursue the Dukan system─weight loss being icing on the cake. Why? Because that dangerous, pancreas-damaging cycle does more than fatten your waist. It also promotes metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and chronic inflammation─all of which lead to and/or complicate cardiovascular disease.

Another key to the success of the Dukan Diet is that during the first few weeks, people lose weight safely but rapidly. This is key, since many dieters who would otherwise give up quickly are more likely to stay committed to their weight loss goals if they see results quickly.

What else should you know? Well, any major change in how you eat is bound to have some physical effects. After all, cutting out refined sugar and processed/junk foods is a mild shock to your body─like any detox─and you may experience slight headaches as a result.

Hang in there, this will pass within days, and you’ll feel so much better once your blood sugar levels stabilize and natural energy returns, you’ll wonder why you waited so long to take positive action.
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