#038 Is Dairy Good for You?

September 29th, 2014 by
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Is Dairy Good for You?

“Should I be drinking cow milk?” a class member asked Jane last week.

“Do you like it?”

“Yes. Well then should I be drinking skim, 1%, 2% or whole milk? I am so confused. Everyone is saying different things!”

“Listen to your body. It has the capacity to tell you what it needs.”

The problem is that we receive so many mixed messages, even mandates, from so many outside sources that we stop looking inward for the answers.

For example, our government tells us we need 3 servings of low or non-fat dairy each day.

The dairy industry has convinced us that if we don’t drink our milk we will have weak bones.

Medical studies here in the U.S. and abroad show that these recommendations have no scientific basis.

In response to many of your questions via our website and in our seminars, I will address the important question of dairy and our health.

Dairy is certainly a very controversial topic and the scientific data are not yet clear if dairy is disease causing or disease preventing.

Let me share with you what we DO know and what we do NOT know about dairy, along with my recommendations, based on the scientific data available at this time.

My Dairy Story

I grew up with the typical American lifestyle. My parents encouraged me to drink milk with every meal. I thought that milk would help me grow strong bones and I drank huge quantities of it.

As I got older I began struggling with digesting my dairy.  Sometimes I would have a bowl of cereal with milk and then have my stomach become bloated and hurt for hours.  As I became more and more lactose intolerant I gradually stopped drinking milk but I still had my daily slice of pizza.

Eventually, as many of you know, by my mid-40s I found myself overweight with high blood pressure and high cholesterol.  I also had developed a severe case of eosinophilic esophagitis from a food allergy and an autoimmune disease.

The eosinophilic esophagitis was so bad, that at times the only thing I could keep from getting stuck in my throat were liquids.  This was something that developed at a young age and only seemed to get worse with time.

It was in this health crisis that I completely changed my diet.  Knowing that dairy is one of the major causes of food allergies, I cut out the dairy along with the wheat flour, sugar, and processed foods.  I also quadrupled my vegetable intake and started eating nuts, seeds, and beans or lentils every day.

I’m not exactly sure what my food allergy was,  but my 30+ year history of eosinophilic esophagitis completely went away along with being overweight, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and autoimmune disease.

Through this experience, I was left with the question, is dairy good for you?

Will dairy strengthen my bones?

With the aggressive advertising, the dairy industry attempts to convince us that if we don’t dutifully eat our 3 servings of dairy each day we will have weak bones.

According to the Nurses Health Study involving 77,761 people, dairy did not protect against fractures.  Conversely, those who ate the most dairy were most at risk from bone fractures.

In fact, study after study has shown that the risk of a bone fracture is much LOWER in countries like Japan or China, where they rarely eat dairy, than in the US. Could dairy actually be putting us more at risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures? At a minimum, it is clear that dairy is not a requirement for healthy strong bones.

Will dairy make me gain weight and become inflamed?

We know that weight gain and inflammation are among the major causes of chronic medical conditions. Indeed, heart disease, dementia, and cancer can all be caused by being overweight and inflamed.

Does dairy contribute to this problem?

While well-known doctors, such as Dr. Mark Hyman, have argued that dairy is a big cause of inflammation and weight gain, the overall body of published medical literature do not yet support this view.

Some studies do indeed suggest that dairy increases weight gain and inflammation whereas other studies report the opposite.  Until we see a preponderance of data going one way or the other, I am going to keep an open mind about the role of dairy in obesity and inflammation.

Gut Flora and Dairy

A diet high in dairy can have a fast and significant impact on gut flora.  After just two days of meat and dairy, we can quickly switch our gut bacteria to more bile loving bacteria such as Bilophila and Bactericides.  Bilophila has been associated with inflammation and gastrointestinal problems and Bacteroides has been associated with weight gain.

The ideal gut flora that promotes maintenance of a healthy weight is one where Firmicutes dominates.  This gut flora is found with diets high in plant-based foods.

The best dairy for our guts may be yogurt with live bacterial cultures. Probiotics have been associated with healthier gut flora.

Will dairy raise my cholesterol and cause heart disease?

While it has long been known that dairy can raise cholesterol levels, does this translate into more heart attacks? While the data are not enitrely clear, at this time it does not appear that dairy increases the risk of heart disease.

Does dairy increase my risk of cancer?

This has been an area of intense research.  The strongest link appears to be with dairy and prostate cancer.  For example, in the Physicians’ Health Study of 20,885 male physicians, researchers found a 32% increased risk of prostate cancer in people who ate 2.5 or more servings of dairy each day.

For women the link between dairy and cancer is not as strong.  However, one study of 90,655 women did link high fat dairy products with breast cancer.

Should I eat full fat or low fat dairy?

Thanks to the anti-fat movements of the 1980s, full fat dairy has almost been wiped out of our grocery stores.  However, recent data suggests that ironically higher fat dairy may actually be better than low fat dairy in preventing weight gain.

Dairy Contaminants and Organic Dairy Products

Unfortunately, dairy can be a significant source of contaminants and toxins in our bodies. Too often cows are pumped full of antibiotics and hormones which can alter our own hormones, metabolism, and gut flora.  Also, PCBs and dioxins, which are known to cause cancer, are frequently found in dairy.

Many of these contaminants have prompted savvy consumers to turn to organic dairy products to avoid the hormones and antibiotics.  Unfortunately, the higher heat pasteurization process used for organic dairy products may have unintended nutritional and/or health effects.

Unexplained Medical Conditions and Dairy

Often times people have unexplained medical conditions that their doctors cannot figure out.  Despite thousands and thousands of dollars worth of medical tests, no one can seem to figure out what is going on.

In situations such as these, it is worth considering food allergies.  The two biggest causes of food allergies are wheat and dairy. I have seen many cases where unexplained medical conditions have mysteriously resolved when the offending food item was removed from the diet.

My Assessment of Dairy

To get back to our original question, is dairy good for you, dairy is certainly controversial and we do not yet have clear answers. The bottom line is that if you don’t like dairy there is no need to eat it. Conversely, if you love dairy, there is no need to stop. Dairy is a personal decision.

1. There is no clear proof that dairy will strengthen your bones.

2. There is no scientific basis to our government’s recommendations that we must eat 3 servings of low or non-fat dairy each day.

3. We do not know if dairy is disease causing or disease preventing.

4. The best dairy is probably yogurt with live bacterial cultures.

5. We do not know if full fat or low fat dairy is best.

6. Dairy is a significant cause of food allergies.

7. Dairy is a personal decision.

The bottom line: if you like dairy, enjoy it. If you do not like dairy, you do not need to feel compelled to consume it to maintain your health. If you have specific questions about dairy and your own personal health, please talk to your physician.

How do you feel about dairy? Do you feel better with dairy in or out of your diet?

#036 Does Stress Cause Weight Gain?

September 22nd, 2014 by
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Does Stress Cause Weight Gain?

Do you feel tired, have difficulties sleeping, weigh more than you should, experience head aches, or have digestive problems?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, chances are that you are part of the 77% of us that feel the weight of chronic stress every day. The paradox of our modern society is that with our ever increasing “conveniences,” life is becoming more complex and stressful.

We are living lives our bodies were not designed to live and our waistlines are expanding. Increasingly, we find ourselves inside all day long, not using our bodies to work and not eating real food. Additionally, studies show that the more time we spend keeping up with news, on Facebook, and watching TV, the more stressed we become.

Whether we realize it or not, these things are putting a stress on our bodies and our minds. It creates a negative spiral. The more stressed we feel, the more we turn to these things that are actually causing our stress.

What is Causing Our Stress?

Just what is causing 77% of us to feel so much stress?  According the Stress in America 2013 Report by the American Psychological Association, the top 5 causes of our stress are in the following order:

1. Health (family or personal)

2. Money

3. Work

4. Economy

5. Family responsibilities

How Stress Recently Threw me Off Balance

I recently finished a difficult week of being on call at the hospital.  As a cardiologist this means that I am available 24/7 for a week to help our patients.

The work load is intense and I am constantly receiving calls and on the run helping patients throughout the hospital.  With these hectic days, I am lucky if I can even carve out 5 minutes to eat.

The stress of racing to keep up really threw my eating off balance.  I was craving junk, I was hungry all the time, and my energy was depleted.

In my attempt to eat I did it all wrong for several days.  I just wanted to kill the hunger pains.

Here’s how my thought process went:  “I have no time to eat, but I’ve got to get something fast so I can keep working. I’ll just get a slice of veggie whole wheat pizza and make sure I’m getting in some steps while I eat.  Also, I am so depleted physically, I think I’ll just take a few swallows (three to four to be exact) of Diet Coke from this free soda dispensers in the staff area.”

It’s a vicious cycle, and I knew it.  I eat pizza and drink Diet Coke and it just makes me want to do it all over again.  It’s not real food and it’s not giving my body what it needs.

When I am stressed, I have a raging appetite.  I think about food all of the time and it is hard to feel full.

The only thing that keeps me from putting on extra weight during periods of intense stress is that I keep a very detailed food and nutrition log each day on my iPhone. Somehow, this tool helps me to get back on track more quickly when I lose my way.

Hormonal Changes to Our Body with Stress

Just how does stress cause weight gain?  In addition to cravings and the desire to overeat, stress has many other effects on me.

Even though my phone was not ringing during the night when I was on call, I started having problems sleeping again. I also had difficulties engaging with my family in the evenings.

It turns out that all sorts of things were out of balance in my body due to stress.  Let’s take a look at what’s happening in our bodies when we are under stress.

1. High Cortisol

When we are stressed, our bodies release cortisol.  The two main effects of cortisol are to raise our blood sugar and shut down our immune system.

When our blood sugar goes up insulin levels also go up.  Insulin is the main hormone in our body that causes us to store our calories as fat on our body.

Insulin also makes us hungry. Cortisol decreases leptin so our brains never get the signal we are full.  Another hunger hormone, ghrelin, is increased.

Of course, when our immune system is suppressed we are very likely to get sick. Have you or someone you know ever taken prednisone, a Medrol Dose Pack, or another steroid before?  What happened with the surging cortisol from these steroids?

Did you or someone you know experience an increased appetite and gain weight? The same thing happens when we feel stress.

2. High Adrenalin

Adrenalin for short periods of time, i.e. during intense exercise, can feel good and strengthen the body.  However, when the adrenalin is never shut off, like with chronic stress, it wears out the body.

In particular, chronically high levels of adrenalin cause plaque build up throughout the body leading to heart attacks and strokes.  It also raises blood pressure and is associated with back and other joint pains.

3. Low Thyroid Hormone

When we are exposed to chronic stress, thyroid hormone production generally decreases. Low thyroid hormone makes us tired and causes us to gain weight by slowing our metabolism down.

4. Low Growth Hormone

When children are exposed to constant high levels of stress, they can develop a medical condition called stress dwarfism.  This condition causes their bodies to stop producing growth hormone.

Children with stress dwarfism not only stop growing but the development of their cognitive abilities slows as well. Chronic stress can also cause growth hormone deficiency in adults, causing us to lose muscle mass, gain more fat, and lose our energy.

5. High Insulin

Not only is our insulin increased from toxic cortisol levels when we are stressed, but our cells also become resistant to the effects of insulin.  This causes our pancreas to make even more insulin.

With surging levels of insulin, we are then at high risk for diabetes.  As the insulin levels go up even more with stress, our body goes into fat storage mode and we feel compelled to eat even more.

11 Ways to Stop Stress from Making Us Gain Weight

The first step to preventing weight gain from stress is to recognize your stress. Modern life is incredibly stressful.  If we don’t actively do something everyday to keep stress in check, stress may affect our health. Let me share with you my 10 very best tips:

1. Track Yourself

When I find myself under intense stress, I have to be incredibly careful, or I will reach for the pizza and Diet Coke wherever I am.

This is why, when I am feeling stressed, I track myself. Stressed or not, in general, most of us eat much more than we think we do.  For many of us, tracking what we eat is the single most effective tool to bring awareness of what we are actually eating, otherwise weight gain will likely occur.  This is only magnified when we are stressed.

Tracking tools that have brought me the greatest success include my free healthy habit tracker app or an app on your smartphone like Lose It. While I am not a fan of “counting calories” using some sort of a tracking system is the key to successfully avoiding weight gain during a stressful period of time.

2. Name 3 Things You Are Grateful for Daily

Gratitude puts everything in perspective.  One of the biggest causes of stress is that our expectations are not being met.

If we focus on the blessings we already have instead of what we lack we can help to drive chronic stress out of our lives. This is why my free healthy habit tracker app requires us to physically enter 3 things we are grateful for each day. If we focus on the blessings we already have, instead of what we lack, we can help to drive chronic stress out of our lives. 

3. Exercise and Log 10,000 Steps Each Day

Our ancestors did not have the same problems with stress that we do today.  They worked hard outside each day which caused their levels of cortisol, adrenalin, thyroid hormone, growth hormone, and insulin to return to normal levels.

It is next to impossible to get all of these hormones back to normal levels if we sit all day long. Our bodies were designed to help keep stress levels under control by daily physical activity.

This is why I encourage people to get a daily dose of exercise and to log 10,000 steps each day.  The exercise gets our hearts moving and the steps make sure we use our muscles through the day.

4. Spend At Least 20 Minutes Outside Daily

In our modern fast paced stress-filled lives we have forgotten what it is like to go outside each day.  Even our ancient ancestors did not sit in caves all day long.  

They knew the value of getting outside. Spending time outside has been shown to reduce stress and hunger hormones.  It also helps with sleep. 

5. Set a Bedtime Alarm Clock

Do you feel like there just is not enough time in the day? If so, you are not alone.

We try to catch up on things we need to get done or even just relax with the TV or the computer late at night. I have found that the number one reason why we are so sleep deprived is that we don’t have a consistent bedtime.

Rather than set the alarm clock in the morning try setting it at night. The rules are very simple.  Set the alarm clock for a time like 10 pm.  You cannot turn the alarm clock off until you are in bed with the lights out. With a goal of at least 7 hours of sleep each night it will allow us to help manage our stress.

6. Eat Real Food

When we are stressed out, we are generally driven to eat anything but Real Food.  The hormonal imbalance from stress drives us to eat sugar and processed foods.

If we can eat 9 servings of fruits and vegetables, at least 1 serving of nuts or seeds, and at least 1 serving of a legume (beans/lentils) each day it will give our bodies everything they need to counteract the dangerous effects of stress.  It can also give us the energy and clear thinking to get us out of our stressful situations. Indeed, everything seems to get better when we focus on Real Food!

7. Meditate

Let’s face it, our lives are chaotic and noisy.  We are too disconnected from the peace and calm of nature our ancestors once enjoyed.

We have to find a quiet place to help keep our stress in check. This could be meditation, prayer, or even something like yoga.  Studies have shown that meditation can restore all of the hormonal imbalances of stress.

8. Really Connect with People

For most of us, especially men, when we feel stressed we turn inward.  Under periods of stress, real connection with others is critically important.

No, Facebook and Twitter does not count as real human connection.  Seek out a close friend or family member and make sure you connect with these people each day.

9. Help Someone Daily

When we focus on ourselves our problems can look really big.  I know this is the case with me. The best way to get out of our own stress-filled head is to help someone else.

Make it intentional to reach out and be of service to someone each day.  This could be as simple as giving an old friend a call, sharing food with a neighbor, or writing a thank you note.

10. Go On a News Fast

The old saying “if it bleeds, it leads” really is true with media. Unfortunately, our brains then fixate on the fear based negative news. Negative news activates our stress hormones and reinitiates the negative spiral of stress.

I recommend going on a news fast.  Unless your job demands that you follow the headline news, it is best for our spiritual health to minimize our exposure to all of the fear and negativity from the news.

11. Manage Our Expectations

Sometimes we just cannot change the situation.  Learn to accept what it impossible to change.

One of the biggest causes of stress and unhappiness is when our expectations are not being met.  Sometimes we just have to change our expectations.

At the end of the day, there are just things that are beyond our control. We simply can’t fix everything.

To bring it all home, does stress cause weight gain?  The answer is definitely yes.  We must recognize the stress in our lives and actively do something each day to relieve stress. What have you found that works for stress relief?

#033 Seven Strategies for Healthy Fast Food

September 8th, 2014 by

After our class this week on adapting the principles of China’s Longevity Village to our lives and the choices we face in eating real healthy food vs. fake unhealthy food (which turns out to be what most of us Americans are eating most of the time), a mom came up to me and asked: “I have just one question. What foods can you actually feed your family?”

We all want to eat healthy, but we often don’t know how, or don’t have time or the will. I have found seven simple strategies that I share here in the hopes that they can help you eat and enjoy more real food.

I love the food I eat. Everyday I throw a few healthy ingredients together and end up with something delicious and different every time.

I rarely follow recipes because I’m usually in a hurry and already hungry. By having real foods all ready to throw in, I can successfully make real food both fast and delicious.

Cooking for others has always been one of my greatest fears. Quite frankly, I’d rather stand up in front of a large audience and give a talk than cook for a handful of people.

Because I have traditionally felt so inadequate in the culinary arena, writing this article takes some courage for me. However, I have found many things that enable me to make real food taste good quickly. I hope that what I share will spark some new ideas and make real food easy for you to prepare and delicious for you eat.

I must say that on the occasions I do prepare food for my friends, they tell me that it tastes superb and they ask for the recipes. Sometimes I wonder: “Are they just trying to make me feel good?” But in reality, I don’t think this is the case because I truly find these foods delicious myself.

Let me apologize up front—I don’t measure. I won’t be able to give you quantities. But I can give you some strategies and ideas to run with on your own.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll find that this approach can work for you even better than providing you with a basic recipe!

Seven Strategies for Making Real Healthy Food Easy to Eat

1. Wash, cut up and store veggies in easy to access containers as soon as you bring them home. This makes the veggies easy to eat as is or throw in a dish. Some may worry that the veggies could go bad more quickly. But think about it–you’ll be eating them more quickly too.

2. Always have a quick healthy protein ready. Soak, cook and store a large batch or two of beans or legumes in the fridge that can be mixed into last minute dishes. Also keep on hand tofu, nuts, seeds, wild low-mercury frozen fish (i.e. salmon), pasture-fed organic eggs, grass-fed organic meats in moderation, if desired.

3. Make a soup or a chili each week. These keep well for many days and can be used as sauces and combined with other dishes.

4. When you make a dish, make it in bulk. Save leftovers in small glass containers which can be packed easily the next day for lunches. This saves so much time and provides healthy meals at or away from home for days.

5. Pack healthy foods with you everywhere you go. As it can be so hard to find healthy foods, and so hard to resist the unhealthy ones when you’re hungry, taking your own food can be a life-saver. Nuts keep well and satisfy as a healthy protein and fat. We also love nut butters on sprouted grain (flourless) toast.Cut up fruits and veggies in a portable container work well on a daily basis.

6. Don’t hesitate to eat your stir-fries and salads for breakfast. A vegetable, healthy protein, and fruit is standard fare with our breakfast each day. On a recent trip, a close family member saw us all eating a spinach salad for breakfast and asked, “What kind of food is that for a breakfast?” It’s one that gets us off to a good start for eating real food first and feeling great! It can really help stave off the desire for the junkier kinds of foods.

7. Reach for your real foods first when hungry. Having healthy foods and healthy dishes readily available makes it just as easy to grab something healthy as it is to grab junk food.

Speaking of junk food, lest I give you the wrong impression, we are still a work in progress. We still have some of the packaged, processed foods in our home, and we still eat them. But I will tell you this: the availability of real foods now dramatically outweighs the processed foods and the real foods get eaten much more frequently than the processed foods. Onward and upward!

Healthy Ingredients I Stock in My Kitchen
(Keep it simple. Just start with your favorites.)

Dry beans and legumes (organic dried in bulk, and bpa-free canned): mung beans, garbonzos, black beans, pintos, cannellini, navy or other white beans, lentils, split peas, etc.

Nuts and seeds: almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews, brazil nuts (high in selenium), chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, etc.

Nut butters (organic): peanut, almond, cashew, walnut, pecan, macadamia, sunflower seed, etc.

Whole grains (organic in bulk): Oat groats, barley, kamut, millet, amaranth, spelt, rye, buckwheat, wheat, thick rolled oats, etc.

Vegetables (organic—wash, cut and store for quick and easy use): Onions, garlic, kale, spinach, other leafy greens, cucumbers, carrots, cauliflower, bell peppers, celery, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, etc.

Fruits (organic–priority on in season/local fruits): Berries, oranges, apples, pineapple, watermelon, red grapes, kiwi, pomegranates, bananas, tomatoes, avocados, lemons, limes, etc.

Spices: Cinnamon, cumin, cloves, garlic, curry, tumeric, etc., I especially love spices such as Chinese Five Spice, Indian Kitchen King, or Mediterranean Herbs de Provence that have the right combinations all ready to go.

Herbs (dried and fresh when possible): Basil, parsley, rosemary, dill, cilantro, etc.

Vinegars/cooking wines: White vinegar, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, white balsamic vinegar, rice vinegar, tarragon vinegar, white cooking wine, dry sherry cooking wine, etc.

Other sauces: Braggs amino acids, low sodium soy sauce, hot sauce, organic tomato sauce (I like the Whole Foods 365 All natural fat free brand), mustard, homemade hummus, vegetable broth, vegetable boullion, apple sauce, etc.

Bread/Tortillas/Pasta: Organic, sprouted grain (no flour) breads, buns, tortillas and pastas such as Ezekiel or Food for Life brands

Milks and Dairy (organic): Almond, soy, cow, coconut, plain yogurt, pasture-raised eggs, etc.

More Healthy Proteins: Frozen Wild Alaskan Salmon, canned Wild Alaskan Salmon, grass-fed organic meats, tofu, frozen organic beans, etc.

Kitchen Tools that Make It Easier to Eat Real Healthy Foods
(Use what you have and slowly add as you go)

Over the 21 years that John and I have been married, we’ve invested in a few solid, high quality kitchen tools. From my perspective, these tools completely pay for themselves, as they make it easy to create healthy dishes quickly, and avert the desire to reach for the overly-processed, less-healthy alternatives which can lead to higher costs in health in long-run.

1. Blendtec, Vitamix or other high quality grinder
2. Wondermill or other high quality grinder
3. Bosch or other high quality mixer
4. Nesco Dehydrator or other high quality brand
5. Nesco Pressure Cooker or other brand
6. Ceramic dutch oven
7. Lemon/lime Juicer
8. Citrus Zester

The tool we use the most is our industrial quality blender, which allows us to quickly make great soups, sauces, smoothies, batters, nut butters…you name it. It has been well worth the investment for us.

Jane's Southwest Salad

Jane’s Southwest Salad

Healthy Food Recipe: Fresh Organic Southwest Salad
(Without measurements—It’s ok! Try it!)

Here’s a delicious and satisfying organic salad that I threw together last week with the ingredients I had on hand:

Black beans
Corn
Diced celery
Diced red onion
Halved cherry tomatoes
Barley (cooked al dente—this I had cooked in bulk and stored in my fridge to add to many dishes)
Fresh cilantro
Fresh lime juice
Lime zest—lots!
White balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper

You get the idea. You can throw in anything you have—you can change the vegetables to cucumbers, broccoli, kale, carrots, add avocadoes…you can switch the beans/legumes to garbanzos, lentils, cannellini… you can adapt the dressing to lemon, lemon zest and garlic….you can vary the herbs to basil and parsley…whatever you have in stock.

The key is to keep healthy foods all around you, make them easy to access, prepare them in bulk, and don’t be afraid to experiment. Just grab whatever healthy ingredients you can find and create any combinations you desire.

Please help me and all those reading! Please share your real food recipes and tips with all of us in the comment box below.

Here’s to a week filled with real food, real living and real happiness! Cheers! Jane

#028 How to Prevent Weight Gain After Eating a Big Meal or Junk Food

August 18th, 2014 by
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What should you do if you just ate way too much? Most of us follow this unhealthy behavior with yet another unhealthy behavior: sitting. In our western culture, we were often taught to rest after a meal to allow the body a chance to digest the food.  Could this actually be the wrong advice?

The Chinese have a famous saying, “Take 100 steps after eating and live to 99” or 饭后百步走,活到九十九 (Fan hou bai bu zou, huo dao jiu shi jiu).  This concept of going for a walk after eating is part of Chinese culture and helps to explain why obesity rates are so much lower in Asia.

My study of the Chinese language and travel to China for cardiac conference lectures, over the last 28 years, finally led me to discover China’s Longevity Village where people are living exceptionally long, healthy lives.  In this village, we noticed that people regularly took walks after eating.  This prompted my curiosity about the potential health benefits, and I began to research the science behind it.

The Glucose and Insulin Spikes

One of the primary hormones involved in hunger and weight gain is insulin.  When we eat the simple carbs, such as “healthy” whole wheat bread, processed foods, cereals, pasta, crackers, white rice, fruit juice, sports drinks, soda pop, pastries, sugar, etc., it causes a spike in our blood glucose.  The blood sugar spike from these simple carbs, or what I like to call the “hunger carbs,” then leads to a spike in insulin.

Simple Carbs –> High blood glucose –> High insulin –> Hunger and weight gain

When high insulin levels are coursing through our blood from overeating or eating the hunger carbs (i.e. junk food), it then causes our fat cells to grow and multiply by taking up all of the excess glucose.  Insulin is what causes our cells to pull the glucose out of the blood.  Once this happens, blood glucose levels drop and we are hungry again.

If you ask someone you know with diabetes taking insulin they will likely tell you that they gained weight after going on insulin.  Insulin is the critical hormone for making fat (weight gain) and plays a powerful role in driving us to eat more.  Clearly, the goal is to naturally keep our glucose and insulin levels as low as possible without any drugs.

Of course, the best way to prevent this in the first place is not to overeat or eat the hunger carbs.  While “carbs” have been demonized recently in popular health books, healthy carbs such as those found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and lentils are an important part of a healthy diet and in preventing diseases.  These healthy carbs or filling carbs don’t result in a big sugar rise as they are slowly digested, from all of the fiber they contain, in the gut.

Also, some whole grains such as quinoa and brown rice, can also be an important source of healthy carbs in our diet.  We get into trouble when whole wheat is turned into flour.  This flour results in rapid digestion.  To the body, whole wheat flour is really just “whole sugar.”

If you enjoy bread, like I do, try eating breads like Ezekiel, or other brands of flourless bread.  Flourless breads are filling carbohydrates as they are slowly absorbed and don’t result in the big sugar and insulin surges.

What should I do if I slip up and overeat or give into temptation and eat the hunger carbs?

If you slip up and overeat or give into junk food, which is normal, I recommend following the advice of the Chinese and go for a nice walk as soon as you finish eating.  This can help to minimize the damage.

What is the physiologic basis to walking after a meal?

After a big meal or eating junk food we get a big surge of glucose or sugar in our blood.  When this happens we can either wait for our body to bring down these toxic levels of blood sugar with insulin or we can quickly drop our blood sugar levels ourselves with exercise.

Our muscles need glucose to function.  When we exercise or go for a walk, the large muscles in our legs quickly extract the sugar from our blood stream.  When this happens, it prevents the insulin spikes and steals the sugar from going into the fat cells.

Glucose Storage in Muscle

Glucose is stored in muscle as glycogen.  As we need glucose when exercising, the body can store about 90 minutes of exercise fuel (glycogen) in the muscles.  This roughly translates to about 2,000 calories.

When our glycogen fuel tanks are full, the excess glucose has to go somewhere else.  However, if we can deplete these glycogen fuel tanks right after a meal then there is a place, other than making body fat, for any excess glucose from a meal to go.

Does Taking a Walk After Eating Really Work?

In a fascinating study, Dr. Loretta DiPietro from George Washington University showed that in a group of diabetic patients, a brisk 15 minute walk after each meal could prevent blood glucose spikes.  Moreover, these three 15-minute walks after each meal were shown to be much more effective than a single 45-minute walk.

The principle is the same for us.  Walk after a meal to prevent blood glucose and insulin rises.  If we can keep our blood sugar and insulin as low as possible naturally, without any medications, we can prevent insulin from causing weight gain.  We can put the excess glucose from a big meal or junk food into our muscles instead of into our belly fat.

Timing of Meals and Exercise to Weight Gain

The concept of taking a walk after eating brings up another question.  Does it matter when we eat or exercise with respect to weight gain?

If you are like me, you were probably taught to never eat before working out.  While most of us have probably experienced the stomach cramps that come with exercising on a full stomach, could it be possible to moderately eat before exercising as a way to keep your weight in check?  After all, elite endurance athletes eat during all day long endurance competitions without problems.

One attractive feature to exercising after eating is that you can prevent the glucose/insulin spike.  Without the glucose/insulin spike we can help to prevent our fat cells from growing.

While there are not much data on this intriguing approach in humans, very recent studies in rats suggest that exercising after eating can have a powerful weight loss effect.  Not only did the rats who exercised after eating lose weight but they also gained more muscle mass.  Could exercising after we eat grow our muscles rather than our bellies?

Certainly, exercising or going for a walk after eating is not a license to eat whatever you want.  Unfortunately, it just does not work that way.  You simply cannot out train a bad diet.  In the end, for most people a bad diet will eventually wreck your health, regardless of how much you exercise, just like it did to me.

Based on these data and the teachings of the Chinese, I now try to walk or do something physical after most meals.  Could the Chinese be right after all?  Could a walk after eating be just what you need to prevent weight gain?

What one habit will you change to help you get moving more after you eat? Write it down. Try it for one week and document how you feel.  Please share what works for you! Together, we can lift one another in our common quest to navigate the challenges of this society and take back our power to live well. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

#027 Do You Have These 12 Magnesium Deficiency Symptoms?

August 11th, 2014 by
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Do you have these 12 magnesium deficiency symptoms?

Chances are that you suffer from magnesium deficiency symptoms.  Indeed, up to 89% of Americans are magnesium deficient.

Most people have no idea they are missing this critical micronutrient.  Read on to find out if you may be suffering from magnesium deficiency symptoms.

Jill’s Experience

Early in my career as a cardiologist, I worked with a 48 year old nurse from Wyoming who suffered from palpitations, anxiety, and weight gain.  She was tired during the day and couldn’t sleep at night.  She had seen many doctors and nothing seemed to help.

As part of her work up for palpitations, I put her on a 24-hour heart monitor (Holter monitor).  The heart monitor showed frequent premature ventricular contractions (PVCs).

I also checked her lab work.  Everything was normal, including her serum magnesium level.  Fortunately, her stress echocardiogram was also normal so we didn’t have to worry about any other heart issues.

To help with her palpitations, I prescribed a beta-blocker medication.  Unfortunately, beta-blockers only caused more fatigue and only marginally decreased her palpitations.  What followed were a series of different medications, all with intolerable side effects.

Finally, I encouraged her to eat a high magnesium diet.  I also prescribed magnesium supplements.  Even though her serum magnesium level was “normal”, I was running out of options.

Miraculously, all of her symptoms went away.  Not only were her palpitations gone, but her anxiety resolved, she had more energy and she was now sleeping at night.  She even lost 10 pounds in the process.

Can you test for magnesium deficiency?

Unfortunately, there is no good test for magnesium deficiency.  This is why it is so important to recognize the magnesium deficiency symptoms.

While it is easy to test for magnesium in your blood (serum magnesium levels), less than 1% of the magnesium in your body can be found in your blood.  Thus, serum magnesium levels are a poor indicator of magnesium deficiency.  Most of your magnesium is stored in your bones or your cells.

Who is at highest risk for magnesium deficiency?

If you are under a lot of stress you likely are not absorbing much magnesium from your food.  If you drink filtered or bottled water, you are getting minimal magnesium in your water.  If spinach and other green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes are not on your plate every day, you probably suffer from magnesium deficiency symptoms.

If you are overweight, diabetic, or over age 60, you are probably magnesium deficient.  Likewise, if you take diuretics, calcium supplements, or stomach acid blocking medications you are also probably deficient in magnesium.

Do you have these 12 magnesium deficiency symptoms?

Below are 12 of the most common magnesium deficiency symptoms.  Chances are that you probably suffer from one of these 12 conditions.

1. Weight Gain or Diabetes

When you don’t get enough magnesium in your food and water, it can cause glucose and insulin levels to rise.  When insulin levels are high, you may suffer from food cravings.  Unfortunately, these food cravings are generally for processed carbohydrates which lead to further weight gain.

2. Fatigue and Muscle Weakness

Magnesium is a critical component of energy production in the body.  In fact, the body’s energy molecule, ATP, is created through magnesium dependent chemical reactions.

If you are tired all the time, you are probably magnesium deficient.  Likewise, if your muscles are weak, you may also not be getting enough magnesium.

3. Anxiety

People under high levels of mental or physical stress, poorly absorb magnesium from the gastrointestinal tract.  To make matters worse, magnesium deficiency is an important cause of anxiety.  Fortunately, studies show that restoring the magnesium may help in the treatment of anxiety.

4. Insomnia

Having enough magnesium balances out your stress hormones.  Magnesium also helps the body maintain sufficient melatonin and other sleep hormones.  Indeed, magnesium supplementation has been shown to help with sleep.

5. Depression

For over 100 years now, magnesium deficiency has been associated with depression.  It is also well known, that people with depression are more likely to eat a diet low in magnesium.

6. Dental Cavities or Osteoporosis

If you’ve had a lot of cavities, or been diagnosed with osteoporosis, you probably have magnesium deficiency.  Magnesium deficiency has long been associated with dental cavities.  Magnesium deficiency may also affect vitamin D metabolism and osteocalcin which play a key role in bone turnover and formation.

Ironically, if you are taking calcium supplements for osteoporosis, you may be making matters worse. Calcium supplementation can throw off your calcium/magnesium balance.

7. Constipation

If you suffer from constipation you probably are magnesium deficient.  Magnesium has long been used as a laxative.

8. Muscle Cramps or Migraine Headaches

Do you suffer from leg cramps, eye twitches, or muscle spasms?  Do you get frequent headaches? These may all be magnesium deficiency symptoms.

9. Inflammation, Arthritis, or Autoimmune Diseases

If you suffer from chronic inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis or autoimmune diseases, you may be magnesium deficient.  Studies have linked magnesium deficiency to arthritis and elevated C-reactive protein (CRP) blood tests.

10. Palpitations, Heart Attacks, Heart Failure, or Cardiac Arrest

Most forms of heart disease have been linked with magnesium deficiency.  This mineral is critical to optimal cardiac function.

11. Thyroid Problems

Thyroid problems are very common in the U.S.  Research suggests that many thyroid issues can be traced back to a magnesium deficiency.

12. Cancer

An often overlooked cause of cancer is magnesium deficiency.  Magnesium is a critical nutrient for many DNA repair mechanisms.   As new cancer cells are created every day in your body, you need your DNA repair mechanism functioning optimally.

Magnesium in Our Water

Our ancestors used to get large amounts of magnesium just from their drinking water.  Mountain spring water is naturally high in magnesium.  Unfortunately, many municipalities remove magnesium as part of their water treatment process.

If you want to see how much magnesium is in your drinking water, click here.  In general, the “harder” your water, the more magnesium you are getting.

Interestingly, drinking hard water may lower your risk of heart disease.  If you happen to live in a city with naturally hard water, you can get up to 30% of the magnesium you need each day from water.

Unfortunately, water softeners, water filters, reverse osmosis devices, and bottled water are generally all depleted of magnesium.  If you drink any of these magnesium depleted water types, you have to get 100% of your magnesium from food.

Magnesium in Our Food

Once upon a time, our soil contained much more magnesium.  Unfortunately, modern agriculture has stripped this essential mineral from the ground.

To make matters worse, the foods most often eaten in the U.S, namely wheat, dairy, meat, sugar, and other processed foods, do not contain much magnesium.

Fortunately, organically grown produce has been shown to have up to 29% more magnesium.  To get enough magnesium in your diet, make sure you eat plenty of green leafy vegetables, especially spinach, nuts, seeds, and legumes every day.  To see a breakdown of which foods contain the most magnesium click here.

Can you get too much magnesium?

In general, it is very difficult to get too much magnesium from your food and water unless you have kidney disease.  Certainly, it is possible to get too much magnesium if you are taking supplements.

How much magnesium do you need each day?

In general, adults need about 400 mg of magnesium each day.  Rather than trying to calculate the magnesium content of your food, just eat a heaping green salad each day.  If your heaping salad includes plenty of spinach, seeds, nuts, or beans you are there.  A heaping salad with the right toppings will get you 100% of the magnesium you need for the day.  This is especially true if the seeds on top are pumpkin seeds.

Magnesium in China’s Longevity Village

As you know, we have been studying the residents of China’s Longevity Village for many years.  We have found that these people do not suffer from magnesium deficiency symptoms.

The mountain spring water they drink is extremely hard and packed full of essential minerals.  Researchers suggest that these people get up to 50% of their magnesium just from the water.

Also, modern agriculture has yet to put a stake in the ground in this rural area of China.  Thus, the soil is extremely high in magnesium and other minerals.

Their diet, which is very high in vegetables, nuts, seeds, and beans, only further augments the magnesium they are getting every day.  We suspect that the magnesium in their food and water may be an important reason why heart disease is very uncommon and people live to old ages free of chronic medical conditions.

How can you correct magnesium deficiency?

Let me give you five simple steps to correct magnesium deficiency.

1. Drink hard water.

2. Eat a heaping salad with spinach, nuts, seeds, and legumes daily. 

3. Reduce Stress.

4. Talk with your doctor about magnesium supplements.

5. Talk with your doctor about diuretics, acid reducing medications, or calcium supplements.

Final Thoughts

Up to 89% of Americans suffer from magnesium deficiency.  Chances are that you may already be suffering from one of magnesium deficiency symptoms.

Fortunately, magnesium deficiency is easy to correct.  Talk with your doctor if you suspect that you have any of the above magnesium deficiency symptoms.

If you have any thoughts or experiences with magnesium deficiency, please leave your comments below.  Also, if you have any questions about what you have just read, leave your questions in the comments section below.  I will do my best to answer every question.

#025 Can You Gain Weight from a Fecal Transplant?

August 4th, 2014 by
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Can You Gain Weight from a Fecal Transplant?

Did you catch the news headlines about the woman who experienced massive weight gain following a fecal transplant from her daughter this past week?  Can this even be true?

Just what is the science behind a fecal transplant and why on earth would anyone ever want to have this procedure done?  In this article I will discuss the answers to these questions.

A Medical Mystery?

An unnamed woman, I’ll call her “UW,” was innocently prescribed a course of antibiotics by her physician to treat an infection she was struggling with.  While the antibiotic cleared up her initial infection the antibiotic caused a new infection, Clostridium difficile colitis.

Clostridium difficile, or “C. diff” for short, is an infection of the colon that can arise after someone has been treated with antibiotics.  As antibiotics can quickly wipe out your good gut bacteria, this then allows very dangerous bacteria, like C. diff, to quickly fill the void and cause a life-threatening infection inside of your colon.

For anyone who has ever experienced C. diff colitis, this can be an especially difficult infection to treat.  Even more antibiotics are given.  Unfortunately, even our most powerful antibiotics often cannot touch this deadly C. diff.

It is in just these most difficult cases when doctors may consider a fecal transplant.

U.W. was just one such patient.  She was in severe pain and her life was in jeopardy from the C. diff infection.  UW opted to get her fecal transplant from her 16 year old daughter.  It just so happened that her daughter was gaining weight at this exact period of time that she needed a fecal transplant.

As this is still a new medical procedure and doctors did not know all of the potential complications, they thought UW’s daughter would make a great fecal donor.  Her physicians then took some of her daughter’s stool and placed it in her own gut.

Her daughter’s stool bacteria were able to fight off her C. diff infection and she was soon cured of this disease.  Unfortunately, over the next 16 months her appetite was uncontrollable and every calorie she took in just seemed to stick.

UW had never had to deal with weight issues before in her life.  Now, regardless of what she did or how she ate she just kept gaining weight.  UW told her gastroenterologist, “from the moment I had the fecal transplant, I felt like a switch flipped in my body.”  The switch was indeed “flipped” and a woman who had never dealt with weight issues before suddenly gained 34 pounds!

Fecal Transplants for C. diff Infections

Fecal transplants for C. diff infections have now gone “main stream.”  For example, the venerable Mayo Clinic even advertises a 90% cure rate for C. diff, with a fecal transplantation.  Based on UW’s experience, doctors now know not to perform fecal transplants from overweight individuals to avoid long-term weight gain.

Could a fecal transplant be used for weight loss?

If a fecal transplant from UW’s overweight daughter made her suddenly become obese, could the opposite also be true?  This is something researchers are looking into right now.  Could transplanting fecal material from the gut of a thin person to an overweight person help them to lose weight?

Gut Bacteria

As there are 10 times more bacterial cells in your gut than the rest of your entire body, could these bacteria play a role in preventing weight gain and even coronary heart disease? Exactly what are these bacteria doing in your gut?

Studies indicate that up to 1,000 different strains of bacteria live in your gut.  These bacteria eat your food, help you digest your food, absorb key nutrients, neutralize toxins, and keep nasty bacterial invaders, like C. diff, away.

Having the right gut bacteria or gut flora can help to protect you against cancer.  When you have gas it may just be a by-product of these bacteria helping you to break down foods like beans.

Depending on your gut flora, you could absorb all or just part of the calories from what you eat.  In other words, with the wrong gut bacteria in place, like in the case of UW, you could absorb more calories from the foods you eat.

Likewise, if you have the right set of bacteria in your gut, you won’t absorb as many calories from food allowing you to eat even more without gaining weight.  Your gut flora can even control your glucose absorption rate, thus influencing your odds of developing diabetes.

Fecal Transplant for Weight Loss

In one the most prestigious scientific journals, Science, Dr. Jeffrey Gordon and colleagues from Washington University published groundbreaking research showing that gut bacteria from a fecal transplant can determine whether mice are lean or obese.

In this study, researchers first created mice with no bacteria in their gut.  At the same time they identified genetically identical human twins of which one twin was thin and the other twin was overweight.  Researchers then injected fecal material from either the thin or the obese human twin into these mice that they had created who lacked any bacteria in their gut.

Dr. Gordon and colleagues found that with the same diet and exercise patterns, the mice who received a fecal transplant from the overweight twin became overweight, like UW, and that the mice who received a fecal transplant from the thin twin twin became lean.

Little Brown Hamster Eating Corn

Oral Version of the Fecal Transplant

Mice share a nasty habit of eating each other’s droppings, also known as coprophagia.  Thus, to further test their theory, researchers then put a thin mouse in a cage with overweight mice and an overweight mouse in a cage with thin mice.

Given the innate habit of coprophagia, they could then test the theory of fecal sharing through the oral route.  As you might guess, the thin mouse eating obese mice droppings became obese.  Likewise, the overweight mouse eating lean mice droppings became thin. This change in mouse body weight was completely independent of their diet and exercise patterns.

Our Diet Determines Our Gut Bacteria

There is more to this study than just measuring the effects of swapping fecal material.  Dr. Gordon and his team also found that mice eating a healthy diet (a diet high in fruit and vegetables while low in saturated fats) could prevent them from becoming overweight if they were exposed to fecal gut bacteria from an obese mouse.

In previous studies, Dr. Gordon and his team showed that within our guts there literally is a “food fight” to see whether the Bacteroides or Firmicutes bacterial strain will dominate.  Thin people tend to have more of the Bacteroides strain and overweight people tend to have more of the Firmicutes strain.

While it may seem like a fecal transplant could be a quick obesity cure, it would still require long-term effort.  For example, to maintain the weight loss after a fecal transplant a person would have to continue to eat a very healthy diet otherwise it would just be a matter of time before the Firmicutes strain took over again and the person gained all of their weight back.

Indeed, Dr. Gordon and colleagues have also shown that within just 24 hours of eating a Western Diet (high sugar and high saturated fat), the bacteria in the gut could be shifted back to Firmicutes despite a fecal transplant.  Thus, if you did not want to change your eating habits you would need a daily fecal transplant to stay thin.

I suspect few people would sign up for a daily fecal transplant procedure.  However, if you could put fecal material from a thin person into a supplement then perhaps this is something you could take every day…

Could antibiotics really be a “fat drug?”

Along the same subject of gut bacteria and weight gain, animal breeders have known for years that if animals are given just a small amount of antibiotics every day that they will gain weight regardless of their diet or exercise patterns.  The data suggest that the healthy gut bacteria killed off by antibiotics allows the bad bacteria to take hold and cause the animal to extract more calories and accumulate more fat from the same diet.

While most of the antibiotics given to animals to fatten them up don’t survive the cooking process, some people feel it is possible that some could survive to your dinner plate.  This small dose in non-organic meat and dairy could be just enough to cause you to gain weight.

Even more plausible is that the course of antibiotics you took last winter may have caused you to gain an extra five pounds that you just can’t seem to get off.  Could our love of antibiotics for livestock and for every cough we humans get be yet another potential cause of the obesity epidemic in the U.S.?

Probiotics and Health

Probiotics have become progressively more popular.  Yogurt and other fermented foods may just give the necessary boost to the healthy bacteria struggling to keep the bad guys out of your gut.

There are also many probiotic supplements now on the market.  Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are the most popular as these are the best studied.  Many tout the benefits of ingesting live healthy gut bacteria.

A number of small studies have supported the use of probiotics for various gut, allergy, high cholesterol, depressive, and other conditions.  Currently, however, the strongest data supporting the use of probiotics is to prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea.  This is an area of science that is still in its infancy and thus, there are still no FDA approved health claims for probiotics.

Personally, I believe we are just at the beginning of our understanding of the role of probiotics.  It certainly makes sense that if we can grow the right bacteria in our gut we just may be able to control many inflammatory and immune related diseases, obesity, and diabetes just to name a few.  Stay tuned, as this will be an exciting area of medical research for many years to come.

Gut Health in China’s Longevity Village

Remarkably, during our stays in China’s Longevity Village we could not find anyone, including the elderly, suffering from constipation, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, or any other gut malady.  They rarely take medications, including antibiotics, and don’t pump their livestock up with antibiotics either.

They eat an extremely high fiber diet.  Almost everything they eat is high in fiber.  How can you not have a healthy gut with so much fiber?

They also love fermented foods like fermented tofu.  Sugar and other simple carbs like bread as well as red meat, and dairy were traditionally absent from their diet.

While they did not intentionally practice intermittent fasting for health reasons, most of the older generations experienced periods of time where they were hungry when food was limited.  These periods of famine may have promoted the healthy gut bacteria which conferred upon them health and longevity.

9 Lessons for Maintaining a Healthy Weight and a Healthy Gut

1. Feed your gut bacteria fiber.

A high fiber diet, consisting of plenty of fruits and vegetables is just what you need to help colonize your gut with the good, disease and obesity fighting bacteria.  High fiber foods are also called “prebiotics” as they create the perfect environment for healthy gut bacteria to thrive. With the right gut bacteria, you can eat more food and be less likely to gain weight or become diabetic.

2. Only take antibiotics when it is absolutely necessary.

Everyone knows that antibiotics are over-prescribed. Not only are we harming our gut health but we may also be gaining weight and creating superbugs from excess antibiotics.  We are just beginning to learn about the potential life-long detrimental effects of just a single course of antibiotics on our gut health.

3. Only eat organic meat and dairy.

Eating non-organic meat and dairy, pumped full of antibiotics, may just be yet another source of unnecessary antibiotics in our diets.

4. Consider probiotics.

Early data are promising for probiotics.  Before considering supplements, I always recommend first getting probiotics naturally from foods such as yogurt or fermented foods.

5. Manage stress.

Studies have shown that when we are under stress it causes the beneficial gut bacteria to die off.  Make it a point to do something for stress each day.  Stress reduction could come in the form of yoga, exercise, being in nature, prayer, mediation, or even just spending time with friends and family.

6. Minimize unhealthy fats.

As shown in the mouse experiment, unhealthy fats in your diet promote the unhealthy gut bacteria, which then could lead to obesity and diabetes.

7. Minimize acid reducing and anti-inflammatory drugs.

These drugs also disrupt healthy bacteria in the gut.  It is important to keep the right acidity in the stomach to promote the right kind of bacteria in our guts.  Likewise, anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen, can damage the walls of your gut which can also affect good gut bacteria.

8. Minimize the “hunger” carbs.

If possible stay away from sugar or anything else that is like sugar including even “whole wheat” bread, cereals, most pastas, pastries, crackers, processed foods, etc.  These simple carbs, which I like to call the hunger carbs, just make you hungry as soon as you finish eating them.

The disease causing gut bacteria also love these unhealthy carbs as much as we do.  If you love your bread, like me, making your own bread.  You can even try my wife’s “real” bread recipe.

Another option is to try Ezekiel Bread, which is also slowly absorbed and does not result in that sugar surge you get with even traditional whole wheat bread.  Ezekiel Bread can be found in the frozen section of most health food stores.

9. Intermittent fasting.

There are even data supporting the role of intermittent fasting and optimal gut health.  If you already fast for religious reasons, this may be one additional benefit.  Even going without food for just 12 hours seems to increase the balance of Bacteroides to Firmicutes which decreases your likelihood of obesity or diabetes.

Remember, this is early research, but it is fascinating to consider the possibilities.

What do you think about the idea of fecal transplant to control weight gain?  What have you found to help your own gut health?  Do you take probiotics?

Disclaimer

Please do not try anything discussed in this article without first speaking with your physician.  There can be risks with anything, even just changing your diet.

#024 Food Rules by Jane Day

August 4th, 2014 by
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In the cereal aisle, I overheard a mother telling her child, “You can have this cereal, or this one, or this one.” The child countered, “Can I have this one?”

“No,” The mother replied, “but you can have this one.”

I looked up to see her pointing to a box of sugary chocolate puffed cereal.

I paused, intrigued. By what criteria was this mom making her selections?

Pretending to be busily evaluating the cereal boxes myself, I continued to listen as the tension increased between the mom and the boy of about 10 years in age.

Finally, her food rule was revealed. “Look, we’re going gluten-free, so you’re going to have to pick one of these gluten-free cereals.”

Why was I so intrigued by this scenario?

Because I saw myself in it. Over my lifetime, I have placed a lot of “food rules” on myself. At one time, my “rule” was “fat-free” or “reduced-fat.” As long as a food met this criterion, I could happily consume it.

Do you remember SnackWells fat-free cookies in the green box? I was in heaven when those appeared on the shelves.

Never-mind that they were loaded with sugar and other mysterious ingredients; they were “fat-free,” and thus permissible.

Were you as excited as I was when fat-free Olestra made its debut? This ingredient in fat-free Pringles and other chips was marketed as the answer to eating our chips without all the fat.

It wasn’t long before I, and others, discovered that something about this ingredient didn’t agree with our bodies. It was removed from the market almost as quickly as it came on.

During this era of “if it’s fat-free, it’s ok,” John’s brother, Mike, said one day, “Even fat-free foods have calories and it’s the calories that count, not the fat.”

By my rules at the time, I disagreed. Some time later, I switched my food rules from “fat-free” to “sugar-free.” At this point, anything sugar-free was the way to go.

It didn’t matter what chemical was being used to replace the sugar or what it might ultimately do to my body.

I’ll never forget the day my sisters-in-law and I discovered sugar-free jellybeans.  We were in London and attended a play that night.  We brought our newfound treasure with us and freely partook.

It wasn’t long before whatever it was that replaced the sugar began wrecking havoc in our digestive systems.  Bloated, cramping, and gassy, we kept jumping up from our seats and heading for the bathroom.

Upon our return to the hotel room, our attempts to sleep continued to be interrupted by the same symptoms.

We had a great time teasing each other about our great fortune that turned into misfortune.

I find it fascinating that I have put so many irrational food rules on myself, these being just two of many examples, all in the name of being “healthy.”

These rules kept me stuck in a lot of processed foods with a lot of labels making the promises I wanted to hear.

Don’t most “diets” have rules that, when we really think about it, don’t actually make sense for our health?

Do you remember the one that lets you eat as many cheeseburgers as you want as long as you don’t eat the bun?

Or how about the rule that John followed for a while which allows you to consume any quantity of breads, pastas or pastries you desire, as long as they are gluten-free?

John’s not gluten-intolerant and, like many on any diet attempting to control food intake and weight, he ended up actually gaining weight from this particular diet attempt.

Today, I am trying a new approach.  The new “rule” is simply Real Food First. What is real food?

As a society, we have drifted so far from this basic concept of real food that we can be left asking ourselves whether the Mac and Cheese box declaring its ingredients to contain whole grains with 2 extra grams of fiber is now real food?

So much of our packaged foods today are devoid of so much of the nutrition we need.  Instead, they contain nutrient-deficient ingredients that can cause us to crave more of these same nutrient-deficient ingredients.

As Americans, we tend to have so much guilt around food and often don’t enjoy our food.

The abundant temptations and our resultant obsession with food rules to control our intake in the name of health, may contribute to what is making us sick from food.

In China’s Longevity Village, I reflected on our dilemma as I witnessed friends and family working together to grow, harvest, prepare and partake of their food.

Food rules, guilt, and obsession over resisting food are non-existant, as are obesity and eating disorders.  The people are simply grateful to have the real food that they’ve worked to produce.

In the U.S., 50% of our meals are prepared or eaten out.

It is easy to become distanced from the knowledge of what is actually in our prepared food.

When we get curious and begin asking questions, we often find it is comprised of ingredients that do not promote our health or even create cravings to eat more processed foods.

For me, when I find that I am in the grip of the junk food, it takes some work to escape its hold.

The junk food can override the natural cues my body tries to send me to eat healthy, and instead, make me think I just want more junk.  But as I refuse to succumb to this lie, and eat more real food, I am better able to listen to my body’s cues and actually come to crave the real food more than the junk food.

I currently strive to first eat the vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds that give me the nutrition my body needs and satisfy my hunger in a real way.

I am finding that this reduces my intake of the less nourishing foods and sometimes eliminates the desire for these foods all together.

Another benefit to this approach, for me, is that nothing is “forbidden.”

In my experience, when I forbid myself a certain food, I often end up eating that food in excess.

The freedom that Real Food First offers, in contrast to the irrational food rules and the accompanying cravings, tastes so much sweeter than any sugar-free cookie or fat-free potato chip I could ever consume.

We’d love to hear your stories about your own attempts to escape the grasp of junk food.

Have you ever tried restricting certain foods or ingredients?  How have these attempts have worked for you?  What is working for you now? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

#023 The Real Food First Diet

July 28th, 2014 by
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Real Food First: A Simple Guide to Losing Weight, Getting Kids to Eat Healthy, and Feeling More Energy

When we returned home from our first visit to China’s Longevity Village, we asked ourselves, “With all the junk food our kids encounter at school, church, playdates, scouts, sports, and practically everywhere in our society, how can we help our kids not only eat healthy, but develop a desire to eat healthy?”

The pay off of good habits developed early was apparent in the village. We were so impressed how a group of people in this village were able to feel so good, have so much energy, and escape the chronic medical conditions that we see everywhere in the U.S. None of them were taking any medications and they were still growing their own naturally organic food well into their 80s, 90s, and 100s.

The traditional diet of China’s Longevity Village is a diet consisting of vegetables, fruit, beans, nuts, seeds, and fish.  They eat vegetables with every meal, including breakfast.  There was no added sugar, limited grains except for unrefined brown rice, and limited animal meat.  Dairy was not part of their diet as they are lactose deficient.

The Junk Food Life

It is so difficult to eat healthy as a kid in our society.  School lunches are horrible.  Little league coaches, scout leaders, and church leaders often enjoy offering “treats” to our kids. But how rewarding are these “treats” when kids in the U.S. are becoming overweight at an alarming rate and developing chronic conditions earlier and earlier in life?

Eating junk food has become the norm.  How do we help our kids break away from the path of least resistance and take initiative to make healthier behaviors? We can’t always be with them.  Somehow, we have to help them develop the desire and the tools to make their own healthy choices.

Like most parents, we are trying to empower our kids with knowledge about what their bodies need and why. We teach them to read labels.  We teach them how food grows. We try to help them practice balance–maximizing the good and minimizing the bad.  All these things are good, but left to their own devices, our kids still tend to prefer the not-so-healthy choices and go for the less healthy ones.

Recently, we’ve been trying a new approach: Eat Real Food First.

Let me explain.  With each meal we offer and encourage our children to eat vegetables, a fruit, a healthy fat, and a healthy protein.  If their bodies tell them that they are still hungry after their fruit, vegetables, healthy fat, and healthy protein, then they can choose to eat additional foods, including not-so-healthy items, if desired. We are finding that by filling up on real food first, our desire for and the amount of junk food we actually eat decreases.

Tips for Getting Kids to Enjoy Vegetables

Getting kids to eat vegetables can be challenging.  Vegetables are something that we know few others will offer to our kids so we make sure to at least offer some form of a vegetable to our kids with each meal.

When given the choice, our kids will always opt for the carrot sticks.  While carrots are extremely healthy, we try to make sure that by the end of the day they have had a rainbow of vegetable colors (orange, green, red, etc.).  Of the rainbow of colors, we try to make at least one of them a cruciferous vegetable (broccoli, kale, cauliflower, etc.)

Most often, they like the vegetables raw with a salad dressing for dipping.  However, more and more, they are enjoying stir-fry dishes with different sauces.  Our 9- and 11-year-old sons now declare that curry is their favorite, our 6-year old daughter likes hoisin sauce.

We invite the kids to cut and cook the vegetables with us.  Somehow, working with the food itself helps them to enjoy eating it more.  They each have developed their favorites to chop–one particularly likes to chop onions, another zucchini, and another carrots. Whatever works!

If there are certain vegetables they traditionally resist, we find that when we cut them up small and mix them with a variety of other colorful vegetables, we have more success.  A vegetable they’ve always “hated,” often gets eaten without comment or fuss.

Our next step is to grow some of these foods ourselves.

We’d love to hear your suggestions, questions, and successes helping your family to enjoy vegetables. Please share your comments at the end of this blog.

What fruits do we encourage?

Fruits are not so difficult. We can’t think of a fruit our kids won’t eat.  We always try to have a wide variety of fruits peeled and cut up ready to eat with each meal.  It could be something as simple as a few organic strawberries, half of an orange, or a small bunch of organic red grapes.  One small serving of a fruit with each meal is enough and can address the desire for something sweet.

“Hunger Carbs” vs. “Filling Carbs”

Vegetables, legumes (beans and lentils), and to a lesser extent fruit, are what we call the “filling” or “healthy” carbs.  These carbs, which are slowly digested, do not result in big sugar or insulin spikes, and heal us.  These carbs fill our bellies and allow us to feel full.

These “filling” or “healthy” carbs stand in stark contrast to the “hunger” or “disease” carbs.  The hunger carbs result in rapid sugar and insulin spikes.  They cause us to become hungrier and cause our bodies to break down and become sick.

Have you ever wondered why you can have bowl after bowl of Fruit Loops and never feel full?  The hunger carbs are bread, including whole wheat bread, pasta, sports drinks, soda pop, pastries, crackers, and most processed foods.

If you eat the “hunger carbs” you will just be hungry again in a very short period of time.  The “hunger carbs” are one of the biggest reasons why we are gaining unneeded weight.

What healthy fats do we encourage?

For their healthy fats we encourage things like nuts or nut butter of any kind, seeds or seed butter of any kind, hummus, or even Wild Alaskan Salmon.

For the longest time, none of our kids would eat fish.  But after offering it over and over and over, all three of them have now learned to enjoy Salmon.  They even ask for it when we are planning meals! We like the Wild Alaskan Salmon because it offers the best fish health benefits with minimal mercury, dioxin, or PCBs.

If they are asking for “milk,” healthy fats choices could also include organic unsweetened almond milk, coconut milk, or soymilk.  We realize that soy can be a controversial food item for some people.  This is likely because of how we eat soy in the U.S.  Our soy here is genetically modified (GMO) and processed, not using the whole bean. The organic soymilk we buy does use the whole organic soybean, not merely isolated components or added chemicals. We just make sure we read the labels carefully.

Countless medical studies from Asia have demonstrated the health benefits of soy.  This is likely because they eat the whole bean and the beans they traditionally used were non-GMO.  If you choose to drink soymilk only buy the organic unsweetened whole bean varieties.

If they are asking for a dessert or something sweet, assuming they have not already had candy offered to them from someone else, we may offer dark chocolate.  Our kids have learned to love even 80% cacao dark chocolate.  The darker the healthier.  Dark chocolate includes many healthy fats. We have recently begun mixing nut butters with almond milk, cocoa and stevia. This concoction is a step up in nutritional value from traditional sweets and satisfies our sweet tooth. And, somehow, a smaller amount seems to satisfy, rather than producing an unquenchable desire to eat more and more, as the others sweets usually do.

What healthy proteins do we offer?

For a healthy protein with each meal, we offer our children the same foods listed above that provide the healthy fats–nuts or nut butter of any kind, seeds or a seed butter of any kind, legumes (lentils or beans of any kind), hummus, or Wild Alaskan Salmon.

As most of our suggested healthy fats and proteins are on the same list, depending on what our kids want to eat, one serving of something high in the healthy fats and proteins could suffice for both.

We understand that some of our recommended healthy proteins are not complete proteins with all of the necessary amino acids (i.e. lentils, beans, nuts, and seeds).  This is not a concern to us as our kids will also get other protein sources during the day which will round out their amino acid profile.  For example, at some point during the day, our kids will want a sandwich or a bowl of a healthier cereal.

Ideally, the sandwich or cereal comes after eating the real food first. Otherwise, it’s easy to fill up on the less-nutrient-rich foods and not want the more nutritious foods afterwards.  The protein from the whole grains in these items will make a complete protein when combined with lentils, beans, nuts, or seeds.

We try to offer the healthiest possible versions of the snack foods they ask for at home—i.e. chips, crackers, treats, and we encourage them to be eaten with meals, No foods are forbidden or restricted, as we’ve seen that this can create unintended problems in itself. We know that they will certainly find the junk food at school, a friend’s house, or at church, etc. Our intent is to be relaxed about these realities in our society.

The important thing is that we have at least given them three opportunities each day to provide them with real food first to help keep them healthy.

Day by day, our kids are relaxing into the idea of eating real food first with every meal we have together.  Sometimes they even take their own initiative to get the healthy stuff first.  Sometimes.  We hope this is a work in progress, and will continue to build over time. We’re not there yet, but we are finding that this approach is helping us to guide our children to eat healthy.

Real Food First is the adaptation of China’s Longevity Village Diet to an American lifestyle, which helps us to more successfully navigate the realities of our society and live better.

How to Start Eating Healthy as the Best Way to Lose Weight

As a cardiologist, 80% of the health problems that I see every day could have been avoided with healthy lifestyle choices.  The benefits of eating healthy, reducing stress and moving more are truly life changing.

The question among my patients is always: “how do I start eating healthy and what is the best way to lose weight?” Carrying extra weight is one of the biggest factors causing so many of the health issues I see today.

Unfortunately, less than 5% of diets work long-term.  Eating less does not work because your body’s metabolism just slows down and you are hungry all of the time.  This just makes you tired and irritable.

Exercising alone to lose weight doesn’t work either.  Vigorous exercise can just work up an appetite and, if left unchecked, will cause you to negate any calories you may have burned off with one sports drink, a treat, or a big meal.

By eating real food first, we can give our body all the nutrition it needs for optimal health and eat the foods that will fill us.  Eating real food speeds up your metabolism, so that you burn more calories through the day. Filling up with real food first, in combination with exercise and moving throughout the day, really is the best way to lose weight.

Step 1: Real Food First

Step 1 of the Real Food First Diet is really quite simple.  At each meal, before you eat anything else, have a fruit, two vegetables, a healthy fat, and a healthy protein.  The list of suggested items above for our kids is exactly what you could use as you are starting as well.

You have to be religious about starting every meal, including breakfast, with real food first.  Vegetables are not typically part of a traditional American breakfast.  Let’s change that.

For breakfast, steam up some broccoli as a side with your oatmeal sprinkled with your favorite nuts and almond milk.  Make a delicious salad. If you love your eggs, mix in tomatoes, onions, garlic, broccoli, zucchini—whatever you have.  For eggs, I recommend organic, pasture raised, local eggs.  Never go a meal, especially breakfast, without eating Real Food First.

Step 2: Nothing is Forbidden After Eating Real Food First

After you have finished eating Real Food First, if your body tells you that you are still hungry, decide what you need.  Remember it takes at least 20-30 minutes before your brain gets the message you are full so eat slowly and wait a while after eating real food first. No foods are forbidden or restricted with the Real Food First Diet. There is no counting the calories.

Of course, this is not license to binge or disregard the signals your body is sending you! Listen to your body. If you decipher that you are physically full, but still “hungry” for something else, stop eating, figure out what you really need, move on to another activity, and reassure yourself that you can eat again when you are hungry.

Ideally, you will fill up on the real food first so that you body’s natural weight regulation system will kick in and regulate your weight to the ideal weight.  The problem comes when we eat the “hunger carbs.”  These are the carbs that our body immediately turns into sugar like bread (even whole wheat), pizza, pasta, crackers, processed foods, desserts, etc.

The more “hunger carbs” we eat, the hungrier we will be.  This results in high insulin levels that completely override all of our body’s natural weight regulation system.

If you love bread, like me, try switching to Ezekiel bread, which has no flour and is very high in protein and fiber.  As this bread is not rapidly converted to sugar, like traditional whole wheat or multi grain breads, it is considered a “filling carb.” Even our kids like Ezekiel bread.  It makes great French toast and sandwiches (especially when toasted).  We also enjoy Ezekiel buns, cereals, and pastas.

Step 3: Real Food First with Snacks

If you are hungry between meals then the Real Food First Diet allows you to snack as long as you snack on real food first. We find that if you are eating real foods first, most people do not get hungry between meals.  If you do, have a vegetable, healthy fat, or healthy protein first.

Like with mealtime, if your body tells you that you are still hungry after a vegetable, healthy fat, or healthy protein, then you can eat what you need.  Once again, give your brain 20-30 minutes to get the message you are full.  No foods are restricted or forbidden once you have had real food first.

Immediate Weight Loss

Depending on your previous diet and how overweight you are, you could lose anywhere from 5-20 pounds in your first 10 days by eating real food first.  While this is primarily water weight from the simple carbs or “hunger carbs” (bread, pasta, sports drinks, sodas, pastries, crackers, processed foods, etc.), it is still exciting to see the weight drop so fast at first.

After this initial weight loss, most of my patients see a gradual one to two pound weight loss each week when they eat real food first in conjunction with regular daily exercise (30 minutes if moderate intensity/15 minutes if high intensity) and 10,000 steps daily.

With most diets, people quickly gain back all of the weight, and then some, with eating real food first this is not the case.  This is a lifestyle change.  There is no specific “diet” or meal plan.  Just eat real food first and if your body tells you that you are still hungry after the real food then you can eat what you need.  There is no hunger.  There is no deprivation.

Reclaim Your Energy

In addition to the rapid weight loss in week number one, the biggest thing my patients notice is how much better they feel.  Suddenly, it was as if some one gave them all of their energy back.

Rather than just sitting and feeling tired they suddenly wanted to get up and start doing something.  Many of my patients have told me that they have not felt this good and energetic in years.

Yes, real foods give us energy.  If we can get rid of the energy draining “hunger carbs” or the “disease carbs” and replace them with the “filling” or “healthy” carbs, we can have as much energy as we had when we were kids.

Make Real Food First a Habit!

We have found that with every new habit, tracking our progress is one of the most important things for success.  To help you put Real Food First and reclaim your health and energy now, please sign up for Dr. Day’s free Healthy Habit Tracker App on the resource page of our website.

By signing up for this program, you will get a daily email reminding you to record your progress for the day.  You can even earn “medals” for the number of days you consistently fill out the form.  It is never too late to change!

How about you?  How do you put real foods first?  Have you found success in reaching and maintaining your ideal weight with real foods? Please help others by sharing your questions and experiences here. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

#013 How to Get Rid of Atrial Fibrillation Once and For All

June 23rd, 2014 by
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Do you or someone you love suffer from atrial fibrillation (A-fib)?  If so, you are not alone.  One in four Americans will have at least one episode of A-fib in their lives.  In this article, I share how to get rid of atrial fibrillation.

Many of my patients feel horrible when A-fib strikes.  Their hearts race chaotically and they often feel short of breath, fatigued, dizzy, lightheaded, or may even have chest pain.

The effects of A-fib can be devastating.  A-fib is one of the major causes of stroke.  It can also put people on a number of different medications, all with serious side effects.

This is something you definitely want to avoid, if possible…

If you are like most patients with this condition, you have already been put on a heavy duty blood thinner for life.  You may also be on a medicine to slow your heart down or hold you in rhythm.

Do you want to live this way for the rest of your life?  There are other options.

If aggressive lifestyle changes are made soon enough, the A-fib may completely go away.  I have seen many patients “beat” A-fib just by making significant lifestyle changes.  For others, the A-fib attacks may significantly decrease.  Sometimes, lifestyle changes alone may not be enough.  If this is the case, all is not lost.  These lifestyle changes will double your chances of successfully beating A-fib with a minimally invasive procedure called an A-fib ablation.

If we are going to beat A-fib, we need to know everything that may be contributing to this condition.  If we can aggressively attack each of these 10 items early enough there is an excellent chance that you can get rid of A-fib once and for all!

1. Get Rid of High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is one of the main causes of A-fib.  It puts a big strain on the heart which can cause the lower chambers of the heart to thicken and the upper chambers of the heart to enlarge.

If you have high blood pressure you are not alone.  Studies show that half of all Americans have a blood pressure above the goal of 120/80 mmHg as established by the American Heart Association.  As with A-fib, if significant lifestyle changes are made early enough, high blood pressure is completely reversible.

I have seen this with many of my patients.  In fact, after just a few weeks of making major lifestyle changes, under the direction of their physicians they can start getting off of their high blood pressure medications.  I personally dropped my blood pressure which could go as high as 150/90 mmHg down to 110/70 mmHg without medications.

For more information on how to reverse high blood pressure, please read my article “How to Get Off Your Blood Pressure Medications: Lower Your Blood Pressure with These Eight Steps.

Until you can reverse your high blood pressure with lifestyle modification, you may need to work with your physician on getting this under control.  For my patients with A-fib, I tend to be aggressive on getting the blood pressure under control.  I usually shoot for a target of less than 135/85 mmHg.

2. Reverse Your Biologic Age

Unfortunately, getting older is a big risk factor for developing A-fib.  Even though you are getting older year-by-year (your chronological age), you can reverse your biologic age now!  Your biologic age can be 10-20 years younger than how “old” you are.  You can regain your youth, feel great, and reverse the effects of aging on your heart.

How do you reverse your biologic age?  Please read my recent article “We Can Reverse the Aging Process“.

3. Keep Stress in Check

It seems like we are all stressed out.  According to a study from Everest College, 83% of Americans are stressed out at work.  One study showed that our chronic stress is the equivalent of smoking 5 cigarettes a day!  Even if you just think you are stressed is enough to increase your risk of a heart attack by 27%!

When we are stressed our bodies release cortisol and adrenalin into the blood stream.  These substances are toxic to the heart if it continues long enough.

What can we do to get our stress under control?  Make it a priority to do something every day to get your stress levels under control.  We will never be able to completely avoid stress.  It is part of the human experience.

Even something as simple as yoga to calm your nerves has been shown to decrease your risk of A-fib by 50%!  The key is to recognize your stress and do something actively every day to bring your stress levels down.  For some people this could be exercising, spending time in nature, reading a good book, getting a good night of sleep, or just hanging out with your friends.

For more information on this, please read my article “Seven Ways to Manage Stress”. http://drjohnday.com/?p=779

4. Reduce Inflammation

Inflammation is like stress, it can be helpful to the body for short periods of time. However, when inflammation never turns off it can damage the heart and the rest of the body as well as result in premature aging.

It has been recognized for quite some time that inflammation is an important cause of A-fib.  The good news is that if we can turn off the inflammation for our heart it will help the rest of our body to recover as well.

Did you know there is a simple blood test your doctor can order for you to check your inflammation level?  This test is called C Reactive Protein or CRP for short.  The goal is to have a CRP of less than 1 mg/L.  If you can get your CRP to less than one you can dramatically reduce your risk of A-fib, heart attacks, cancer, and even Alzheimer’s Disease.

How can we reduce inflammation?  Please read the article I wrote on this subject entitled “Six Strategies to Reduce Inflammation and Chronic Pain“.

5. Get Your Weight in Line

Did you know that being overweight is one of the biggest causes of A-fib today?  A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association by my good friend, Dr. Prash Sanders, showed how important weight loss is with reversing A-fib.  In this study, if overweight people could lose just 32 pounds, they could reduce their A-fib attacks nearly three-fold.

This is something I have seen time and time again in my practice.  Overweight people with A-fib who can lose the weight can often make their A-fib go away.

6. Eat the Right Foods

Did you know the rates of A-fib are several times higher in North America than anywhere else in the world?  The Standard American Diet (SAD) is like pouring gasoline on the A-fib fire.  The right foods can reverse most of the factors, discussed in this article, driving A-fib.

For my patients with A-fib I recommend the following:

-Nine servings of fruits or vegetables daily

-At least one serving of nuts or seeds daily

-At least one serving of legumes daily

-Two servings of a low mercury oily fish, like salmon, weekly

For many of my patients, they need to learn how to eat vegetables.  Vegetables can be the most wonderful tasting food if prepared right.  These foods can heal our hearts and our bodies.

To go along with these must eat healing foods, I recommend that my A-fib patients minimize or avoid the following three foods.

-Processed or prepared foods

-Animal meat, especially processed meats (hot dogs, sausage, bacon, deli meats) and red meat

-Sugar, including foods that are immediately turned to sugar like wheat flour, white rice, or potatoes

The goal is to eat real food.  To get back to cooking and sharing meals with friends and families!

7. Rejuvenating Sleep

I cannot stress enough how important it is to get rejuvenating sleep if we are to beat A-fib.  For most people this means at least seven hours of sleep.  It also means sleep free from sleep apnea.

What is sleep apnea?  That is where people stop breathing while sleeping.  These big drops in oxygen levels when people are not breathing can lead not only to A-fib but also to heart attacks, sudden death, heart failure, or high blood pressure.

How do I know if I have sleep apnea?  Generally I find that the spouse or sleeping partner can easily make this diagnosis.  People with sleep apnea usually snore like a train and then will stop breathing for 20 or 30 seconds.

Fortunately, for most people, sleep apnea is totally reversible. It is a complication of being overweight.  With weight loss the sleep apnea usually goes away.

Until the weight can be lost, I recommend that my patients with sleep apnea get treated.  Studies show that you can cut the numbers of A-fib episodes by about 50% with getting the sleep apnea treated.

8. Get Moving

Did you know that people with the least amount of physical activity are at high risk of developing A-fib?  The key is to get moving!  The first thing I recommend for my patients is to get a pedometer.

Studies show that just the mere act of tracking your steps will increase the number of steps you take each day by 2,500.  That is the equivalent of walking more than one extra mile each day just by tracking your steps!

The pedometer is so helpful because people overestimate their activity.  In fact, based on pedometer data, less than 5% of Americans get enough physical activity.

I have found that in my practice, most of my A-fib patients only get 2,000 to 3,000 steps each day.  The average American gets 5,000 steps each day.  The average European, where A-fib is much less common, often gets about 10,000 steps each day.  The goal is to get at least 10,000 steps a day.

While this may seem hard to achieve, most of my patients can easily get to this goal.  You just have to be creative. Can you walk somewhere instead of driving? Can you add an evening walk to your day?  The possibilities are endless.

In addition to 10,000 steps daily, I recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each day.  I am often asked, what exercises should I do.  My answer is simple, do what you enjoy.  Anything counts.  Gardening, dancing, skiing, hiking, etc. are all great.  The most important thing is that you are consistent and do something each day.

I do recommend varying your daily exercise to keep it fun, work different muscle groups, and to prevent overuse injuries.  Depending on what you choose to do, you may also need to incorporate a couple days of strength training into your routine.

9. Get Rid of the Vices

Tobacco, alcohol, and any stimulants, including caffeine, can be a trigger for A-fib.  Did you know there is even a condition called Holiday Heart?  This is when someone drinks a lot of alcohol and then goes into A-fib.

For many of my patients, just getting rid of these vices can eliminate A-fib episodes.  Other stimulant medications, including Sudafed, Ritalin, or other attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medications can also trigger A-fib.

To learn more about the effect of caffeine to heart arrhythmias, please read this article I wrote.

10. When All Else Fails Get it Ablated

For most of my patients, aggressive lifestyle modification can drive A-fib into remission.  Unfortunately, there will always be some cases that just don’t seem to resolved with lifestyle modification.  What should be done in these cases?

For these patients, blood thinners, medications to slow the heart, and rhythm controlling medications are often prescribed.  Unfortunately, for most patients, rhythm drugs only work for a few years at most.

When medications are no longer effective in controlling the symptoms of atrial fibrillation, an ablation is the next step. This is also an excellent option for patients who have side effects from the medications or just do not want to be on life-long medications.

Fortunately, the lifestyle changes we have discussed in this article can double the chances of a successful procedure if an ablation is ultimately required to control the symptoms.

With an ablation, we go into the heart through an IV in the leg, map where the A-fib is coming from in the heart, and then ablate those areas.  The entire procedure takes about three hours and patients will typically spend the night in the hospital following the procedure.  The following day patients will go home with just a band aid.

I have personally done nearly 4,000 of these A-fib ablation procedures.  In experienced hands, most patients can ultimately be free of atrial fibrillation.  There are certainly risks associated with this procedure but these can largely be avoided by physicians with the most experience in performing these procedures.  Please discuss the risks, benefits, and alternatives of A-fib ablations with your physician.

Here is a link to see more that I have written about atrial fibrillation.  Also, be sure to sign up for my free weekly newsletter or subscribe to my podcast.

Feel free to leave your questions and comments below.

#011 Six Strategies to Overcome Emotional Eating

June 19th, 2014 by
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I am an emotional eater.  When I have something I need to do but don’t feel like doing, I suddenly feel hungry and will reach for food.  Over the years, I have given myself permission to procrastinate if I “need to eat” first.

I also use food to “reward” myself.  If I have just finished a killer work out or spent hours grueling with a difficult surgery, as soon as I finish I want to “reward” myself with something my body does not need.

Interestingly, I had no idea I was even an emotional eater.  I really had no idea I was subconsciously “eating” to procrastinate or “rewarding” myself for accomplishing something difficult.

It was not until I kept a food journal that I actually realized I did this.  With the food journal it reminded me of how much I had already eaten and when so I knew I wasn’t really hungry.  Interestingly, prior to the food journal experiment, I would forget what I had just eaten and was convinced I was hungry again.

As cumbersome as it can be to keep a food journal, it did finally give me insight on something I had been doing my entire life.  I came to realize that I wasn’t really hungry at these times.  I just did not want to do what needed to be done.

Food was, and still is if I am not careful, an emotional distraction for me.  Like so many people, I got “hunger” confused with other emotions I was feeling.

Emotional eating can come in many different forms.  These experiences and associations with food were often learned in childhood.

Emotional Eating: What Medical Studies Tell Us

Certain foods, especially the high sugar or unhealthy fatty foods, have provided us with emotional comfort over the course of our lives.  Indeed, studies show that these are the foods emotional eaters primarily turn to for comfort.

Emotional eating is a major reason for eating more than what our bodies really need.  Studies also show that unless emotional eating is addressed, long-term weight loss for emotional eaters is extremely difficult.

Six Strategies to Overcome Emotional Eating

The key for success and long-term health is to identify these emotions, determine if you really are hungry, and then redirect the action once these emotions arise.  Here are my 6 tips:

1. Recognize Your Emotions

Are you sad, bored, lonely, stressed out, or angry?  Most likely you are not really hungry at all.  Most of the time I wasn’t really hungry at all.

It could be that what you really need is to connect with a supportive friend or family member, some physical activity, or to do something that you really enjoy like reading a great book, listening to some wonderful music, etc.

Often, if we do one of the above activities, the sensation of “hunger” will pass.  You could even create a new rule for yourself such as “when I feel __, I will go for a walk first”.

2. Eat Three Healthy Options First

If you really feel that you need some food when you are feeling this way, try eating three healthy food options (i.e. celery, apple, handful of nuts, etc.) before you give yourself permission to turn to your old comfort foods.  Generally, by the time you have had 3 healthy options you will lose the urge to return to the old comfort foods.

3. Have a Plan

If you are in a situation where you are feeling very overpowered by your emotions, it often helps to have a plan. Write down what you will eat for the day the night before.  Prepare all of your foods ahead of time so you are ready to go the next day.

This is something that has been very helpful for me.  If I don’t bring a lunch and snacks with me in the morning, I will reach for the pizza and Diet Coke as a “reward” after a long or difficult surgery.

This takes away the decision making process as you have already decided ahead of time what you will eat for the day.  Write down everything you eat as part of this plan.  Sometimes, just writing down everything that we eat makes us responsible to ourselves.

4. Get Enough Sleep and Physical Activity

Often I find that when people are not getting enough sleep or physical activity it is a normal thing to turn to these comfort foods.  Our bodies are hard-wired to seek out high sugar/unhealthy high fat foods when we are sleep deprived, stressed out, etc.

5. Keep a Food Journal

This has been my best tool for fighting emotional eating.  Too often, I forget what I have just eaten and think I am “hungry” again if I don’t want to do something or am very tired after a long surgery.  The food journal reminds me that it is not hunger but a different emotion I am struggling with.

While food journals are a big hassle, this hassle has been another key to my success.  When I walk past the nurses station and see chips, cookies, or candies just the fact that I will have to record what I eat prevents me from unconsciously taking “just a little”.  The journal has taught me how to eat mindfully.

6. Learn From Bad Days

It is human to have bad days and “fall off the wagon”.  When this happens, don’t beat yourself up.  Rather, analyze the day and try to identify the triggers that led you to “fall off the wagon”.  Learn from these experiences so that you will do better next time.  A bad day can teach you how to improve going forward.

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

#002 Does it Matter What Time of the Day We Eat?

May 18th, 2014 by
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Does it really matter what time of the day we eat? At the end of the day it is all about the total number of calories taken in, right?

My philosophy in the past was a calorie is a calorie. I remember as a teenager or even in college sometimes eating a whole pizza right before bed. I was hungry so I ate right before bed. A calorie is a calorie, right?

Wrong! The timing of when we eat really does matter. Even if we eat the same number of calories, depending on what time of the day they are consumed can help to determine whether we are able to maintain a normal weight or become obese.

Eating Time of the Day Study

In a recent issue of the prestigious heart medical journal, Circulation researchers from Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital report their findings on nearly 27,000 American men from the Heath Professionals Follow-Up Study. At the beginning of this study, none of these men had coronary heart disease, however, after 16 years of follow-up, 1,527 of them developed coronary heart disease. Coronary heart disease is where the arteries feeding blood to the heart become plugged up with plaque and put people at risk of a heart attack or even a cardiac arrest.

In this study, the researchers asked the question as to whether or not these men skipped breakfast or ate late at night had any impact on their development of coronary heart disease or not. Interestingly, 13% of the men routinely “skipped” breakfast and 1% reported eating late at night. When they looked at the risk of coronary heart disease, those men that skipped breakfast were 27% more likely to develop coronary heart disease and 55% of those who ate late at night were more likely to develop coronary heart disease.

How do we explain these findings?

Paradoxically, many studies have shown that those people who skip breakfast are much more likely to become obese. In addition to carrying extra weight, skipping breakfast has also been shown to affect insulin and lipid metabolism which likely also leads to increased plaque build up in the arteries of the heart. Likewise, eating late at night also had a deleterious effect on the heart. Our body’s metabolism is highest in the morning and lowest just before bed. Thus, consuming calories earlier in the day with steady meals seems, in harmony with natural body rhythms, seems to optimize the way our bodies burn fuel.

The common saying, “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper” really is true. This study, along with many others, have all shown the same thing. Breakfast is important and should not be skipped. Earlier dinners are best and we should not eat after finishing dinner. Taking these simple steps not only lowers our risk of heart disease but also helps us to maintain a normal weight and avoid obesity.

My Simple Two Suggestions:

1. Never Skip Breakfast

This is the most important meal of the day. Get your body’s metabolism working properly from the start. Get your calories in while your metabolism is at its highest.

2. Don’t Eat or Drink After 7 pm

Your body does not know what to do with calories right before bed other than just store them as fat. You will sleep much better without a full stomach. Also, if you are not drinking right before bed you are more likely to make it through the night without having to get up to use the bathroom. A proper night’s sleep is also critical in optimizing your body’s metabolism.

A calorie consumed at 7 am is much more likely to be burned than a calorie at 9 pm. A calorie is not a calorie with regards to your body’s metabolism.

What about you? Do you ever skip breakfast or eat late at night? You can leave a comment by clicking here.