Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.

Mark's Daily Apple

1 Jun

Stump Sisson Friday

I get several dozen emails every day asking health and fitness questions. I try to respond to as many as I can. Often, readers will write in with similar questions, so I’ve decided that I’ll collect the multiples, as well as the toughest questions, each week and post my responses here. (First names only for confidentiality.) Let me know if this is a helpful feature for you. I’m game for just about anything that will benefit you, so don’t hesitate to contact me with suggestions.

Reader Ben wrote:

You’ve mildly badmouthed soy milk and tofu on your site many times,
usually citing processing as your biggest gripe. But what if I did
this “processing” myself? Is Big Tofu doing something insidious that I
could avoid doing myself? Real soy milk is basically just whole
soybeans that are boiled, mashed, and strained. To get tofu, just take
the real soy milk and add nigari (rinsed sea salt). Would the
mostly-healthy status of soybeans be preserved by doing this?

Big Tofu, I like that. Yes, my general beef with soy has to do with the processing. I think most can probably agree that just about any healthy, natural food, from fruit and vegetables to a humble soybean, can be and often is reconstituted into many less-than-desirable food products.

My general rule: eat food, not food products. But there is a bit of a dark side to soy food production, which you can read more about here. I’m not really “against” soy milk; I think organic, unsweetened non-GMO soy milk is certainly no worse for you than dairy milk and possibly better. And making your own tofu? I think that seems like a very healthful proposition.

Let’s remember that as “bad” as soybeans might be (this week), dairy is a food that nature intends for hoofers, not humans. I know many of you eat dairy, and some of you are fans of raw dairy. I think there’s plenty of room for individual preference. To anyone who worries about the phytoestrogens (plant hormones) in soy, while I share those concerns to a limited extent, remember that regular old dairy – even organic dairy – is loaded with bovine hormones. Soy milk consumption hasn’t created the epidemic of man-boobs that paranoid souls everywhere feared (but then neither has regular milk). I understand the other health concerns about soy, and while I am mindful of those concerns, I feel there are other far more pressing dietary concerns, such as sugar, trans fat and heavy food processing in general. I’m not in favor of heavily processed soy foods, but a little lightly-processed or fermented soy food, especially made organically or at home? Sounds great to me.

(I often discuss “marginal nutrition” issues here at the blog. I think soy is one of them. By marginal nutrition, I mean that first science reveals a potential health benefit of some food, and before you know it, every food company on God’s green earth is injecting said food into myriad food products. Just take a look at the green tea Kit Kat in my previous post today. There’s just no magic bullet. I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face: if you’re eating mostly raw or lightly cooked fresh vegetables and fruits, with a healthy amount of animal and vegetable protein, and some good fats, you’re 90% of the way there and doing a whole lot better than the average. Things like soy, coffee, wine, chocolate – these are marginal issues that seem to offer some nice health benefits, but taken in excess are probably harmful.)

Reader Evelyn has asked about the safety of bottled water and distilled water (as have several of you):

Distilled water is just plain unnecessary. Regular water contains important minerals vital to your health, and in fact may help prevent heart disease. Distilled water removes these valuable minerals along with the impurities in water. Tap water in this country is so safe and clean, you really don’t need to worry too much about it. I recommend a charcoal filter to remove any bad taste, but don’t waste your money on distilled water. Maybe I’m wrong on tap water, but I think there are so many health myths that get blown into paranoid scares, and this is one of them in my opinion.

I’m also not a big fan of bottled water. Many plastics contain harmful chemicals, among them phthalates, that I’m cautious about ingesting. But my primary issue with bottled water is the terrible environmental impact of single-use plastic containers. That far outweighs any possible health concerns in my opinion. Recycling and reusing are great, but remember the other, most important, part of the cycle: reduce.

Readers Lacey and Doug both have asked about reverse osmosis water filtration:

An effective purifying method. Again, I just don’t think that our regular tap water is something to worry about. Filter for taste if you like, but frankly, I don’t stress out about this issue. Though we do have occasional pollution problems, especially around industrial zones, and there are some valid debates about fluoride and chlorine, I for one am pretty impressed with the quality of our drinking water in comparison to the rest of the world. A lot of people don’t have access to potable water, period.

I don’t mean to trivialize health concerns by any means, but I prefer to focus on the major areas of health that have the most significant impact: a healthy diet of whole, fresh foods, daily exercise, proper stress management, avoidance of cigarettes and too much alcohol, and enough sleep. For a “worry fix” over every possible food, beverage, medicine and substance you might possibly ever come into contact with, I recommend Mercola. :)

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1 Jun

5 Medicinal Benefits of Green Tea

SMART FUEL

Last week the gang reviewed the basic varieties of tea. Tea is a naturally therapeutic beverage and I want to quickly highlight some of its important medicinal properties. Unlike many “herbal therapies” that I tend to be pretty leary of, tea has a well-documented multitude of health benefits. Though I do have a weakness for a morning cup of mud (but that’s between you and me), a daily cup of green tea is a wise habit to incorporate into your health regimen. I’ve been alternating between a glass of red and a cup of green tea with dinner lately for a well-rounded daily antioxidant boost.

Five excellent preventive benefits of green tea:

1. Cancer

2. Arthritis

3. Cardiovascular health

4. Immunity

5. A wide variety of other health issues

The pros: A handy reference

The cons: Mayo Clinic gives green tea a “ho-hum”

Never underestimate the lengths food companies will go to in order to tap into health trends:

Some days, I just have no response.

This is Selva’s Flickr Photo

More Smart Fuel

What I eat in a typical day

31 May

Aspirin, Fish, & Debunking Debunkers

WORKER BEES’ DAILY BITES

Aspirin and fish are two health topics that get plenty of coverage. Just when you read the latest studies that command you to shun all things pill and pisces, another round tells you to take the opposite tack. We’re dishing all the latest research. And for simultaneous comic relief and health insights, you’ll enjoy the link to a debunker who is taking on…the debunkers.

Aspirin: What a Pill

Plenty of authoritative medical studies and organizations recommend taking aspirin for various health issues ranging from heart disease to cancer. Other studies find fault with this OTC drug. Today, European scientists are calling for better investigation into the dangers of aspirin. One problem with OTC drugs is that they are often taken in excess of the recommended dosages. Our observation (certainly not original, but worth stating): OTC drugs are still drugs, and it’s vital to exercise caution and do your homework. Many hospital visits are due to overdoses and interactions from “harmless” OTC drugs.

Fish: Scientists Still Flip-Flopping

While fish consumption does present concerns (mercury! sustainable harvesting!) one thing is now conclusive: fish oil is a more effective source of essential fatty acids than olive oil, nuts and plant oils.

Stomach growling yet?

This is Laurelfan’s Flickr Photo. We enjoy wild-caught salmon, too!

But Who Will Debunk the Debunkers?

Anssi Manninen, that’s who (via Bodybuilding.com). This is a pretty interesting and entertaining piece calling nutritional “debunkers” on the their own apparently misguided advice.

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31 May

Making a Difference

As our friend, the Fuming Fuji, is always quick to point out, marketing garbage to children is a dirty business – which is why we are happy to introduce you to Amy Jussel. As the founder and executive director of Shaping Youth, Amy is doing her part to clean up the filth.

Her organization, via the popular blog ShapingYouth.com, tackles all issues related to the influence that media and corporate marketing schemes have on children. They take on big problems, like pre-teen body image and childhood obesity, and expose the tricks that giant advertising firms use to manipulate your children.

In the near future, we will have the pleasure of featuring an interview with Amy Jussel on Mark’s Daily Apple. In the meantime get behind the counter-marketing efforts of ShapingYouth.com and check out a few of our favorite articles.

Junk Food Branding Hits the Drug Dealing World: A Reprise

Online Media Nutrition Calculator Helps Parents Track Foods

Sour Combo: Shrek’s “Apples & Milk” at McDonalds

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31 May

How Long Do I Have to Exercise Before I See Changes?

Short answer: probably a lot longer than you want.

Long answer: I tend to cover a lot of nutrition, food marketing and diet issues, but fitness is also a crucial factor in overall health, so I’m eager to discuss exercise issues in greater detail. Truth is I spend a fair amount of time coaching, speaking and writing in the fitness world, particularly triathlon but weight loss to some extent.

Exercise is a vital component of not just weight loss and weight management, but stress relief, energy, sleep, aging, disease prevention, bone health, and on and on it goes…but it’s easy (and maybe more fun) to exclusively focus on the nutrition and diet issues and forget that we have to move our lazy buns once in a while. Leaving exercise out of the wellness equation is far more destructive to your health than any number of diet “sins” you might commit. Notwithstanding the fact that I believe our standard American diet is largely responsible for most of our health problems and most common causes of death, the importance of exercise cannot be overstated.

We don’t exercise for many reasons.

Eating is not a habit, but a necessity. After all, no one really forgets to eat for very long. And it’s usually rather enjoyable to change food selections and to modify our diets for the better, for we get immediate psychological rewards: control, accomplishment, tangibility. Exercise is also a necessity, but as it’s no longer integral to our daily lives – few people plow an acre of sod nowadays – it feels like a chore. No one likes a chore, and establishing a chore as an ingrained habit is tough. Life’s rewards require elbow grease, and that will never change. If exercise were easy or yielded quick results, I suppose everyone would be doing it. Exercise is certainly worth the effort, and not in spite of the challenge, but because it is a challenge. The long-term health rewards of exercise – outside of the brief blast of endorphins following your workout – are not always initially apparent and certainly not immediate.

If we don’t view exercise as an unpleasant chore, we view it as a means to an end: getting a leaner or sexier body. Those fitness infomercials feature guys with six-packs and Christie Brinkley for a reason – we all want to look like that. But the reality is that even the fittest folks are not necessarily going to end up looking “like that”. You can only maximize what you’ve got. I believe that we have to stop thinking of exercise as a vanity tool and remember that it’s simply a basic necessity of life. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be excited about using exercise to lose weight if you hope to shed some extra pounds. But we fall off the proverbial treadmill over and over again because we’re getting on it for the wrong reasons in the first place – exercise is about far more than weight loss.

So, how long before you see results?

You really can’t fight your genes. I witnessed one young woman I coach become sleek and toned after seemingly two sessions with weights and a few rounds of yoga – it’s easier when you’re young, of course. Another guy I work with exercises day in, day out, and has for two years now; although he’s fit and lean, he will never look like Bruce Lee no matter how hard he tries. (It’s worth noting that if you start your children on exercise – such as a sport – from an early age, they’ll develop muscles that will stay with them for a lifetime, even if they gain a little weight down the road as we all tend to do.)

There is some justice: the longer you exercise, the easier it will be to make changes to your shape. That said, results are different for everyone. It’s a complex equation of existing muscles, your natural build, metabolism, fat distribution and many other factors. You actually do get an immediate health boost from exercise, but let’s be honest: how many are really after that? Most of us give up on exercise after a few weeks or even a few days because we don’t see the desired physical results. People like the aforementioned young lady are rare; most of us have to put in months before seeing any real improvement.

The point is, if you’re asking that question – how long before I see results – the answer is almost always: much longer than you want. Hang in there; change will happen. We all want to look good, and many of us want or need to lose weight. Those are healthy and admirable goals. But while exercise can and does help with these goals, at the end of the day, we’ve got to realign our thinking and remember that exercise, more than anything, is just a necessity for health, and despite what the marketers would have us feel, that is reason enough.

Please share your thoughts on exercise, your challenges, and your successes, with me in the forum. I’d love to hear your perspective.

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