Marks Daily Apple
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Mark's Daily Apple

12 Jul

The Watering Hole

I am going to do something a bit unorthodox for the PH column this week. I had planned to move on from the hormone-stress topic to another issue, but due to the responses from so many of you, it is clear this issue resonates with many, and therefore deserves some additional attention. There are so many important issues related to this umbrella term of stress, particularly when viewed from the “primal” perspective of our evolutionary blueprint. I’d like to share some curious, persuasive and otherwise interesting snippets that might serve to get us started in discussing the myriad issues surrounding our modern, stressful lifestyle and its consequent impact on hormone function, stress management, mental health, aging, and obesity. Consider this a starting off point for a conversation that can – and should – go in any number of provocative directions based upon Part 1 from last week. Fodder for the watering hole, if you will. Whether you’re a scientist, teacher, health care provider, or simply interested in health and wellness, I want to hear your thoughts, blue-sky ideas, and varied perspectives. If this gets some thoughtful discussion started, we can carry it on as long as we like.

A few starters to get us going in any number of ways:

1. Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers

This best-seller (inaccurate title notwithstanding – ulcers are caused by bacteria, not stress) addresses the severe health implications of a life filled with daily, unmitigated stress. Robert Sapolsky posits that the reason we get “ulcers” – and heart disease, and diabetes, and obesity, and dementia, and memory loss, and depression – is because our genetic blueprint, as it were, simply isn’t developed to properly handle the enormous amount of stress present in modern life. Our bodies respond to traffic and bills as if they were serious threats – and a number of problematic side effects occur, namely, things like decreased immunity, inflammation, and impaired cognitive function. First, let’s be sure to discuss just how extensive the role of stress is (no surprise that I believe it’s perhaps the most important factor influencing human health). Prolonged and excessive stress – and specifically, we’re talking about stress to the adrenal cortex – is related (but not limited) to:

– depression

– hormonal imbalances

– sex drive

– anxiety

– immunity

– mental function

– weight and metabolism

– fibromyalgia

– cravings

– headaches

– pain and muscle tension

– aging

– sleep

2. Addressing Stress: Some Questions

– To the extent that we agree (or disagree) about the impact of stress upon health and longevity, how, then, do we best address and manage stress? What lifestyle changes do we make? What is realistic?

– I believe the modern diet, high in refined sugars and fats – worthless, toxic calories – exacerbates the already stressful lifestyle we face. Is there a place for sugar – ever – in the modern diet? And how much benefit can we really expect from dietary prescriptions for stress?

– Spirituality and healing. Is the answer a yoga mat away? Perhaps a prescription of Prozac? What practical changes can we make in our daily lives to address anxiety and tension? And what are we seeking – relief? Transformation? Or simply the ability to cope?

– Are our expectations simply too high? Is stress more useful than we think – perhaps something akin to “survival of the fittest”? Have we simply conditioned ourselves into expecting fulfillment, happiness, wealth, and love, only to face the grim reality that life is unfair, imperfect, and always will be? There certainly was never a glorious, golden past when humans were both perfectly happy and healthy. Why do we feel happiness is a virtue? Consider the arbitrariness of “happiness”, which conditions everything from our belief in whole grains to our materialism:

3. Addiction: Seeking Relief

Time has a fascinating article out this week detailing the mechanisms behind addictions of all kinds: alcoholism, gambling, smoking, drugs, caffeine, sex, shopping. Addiction is destructive and serves no evolutionary purpose, so it would seem – so why has nature not ridded us of the capacity for addiction? Whether it’s beer or bonbons, the chemical pathways in the brain that are related to addiction are virtually identical. We become habituated to destructive practices for various reasons (environment, behavior, genetics) but we stay addicted for the chemical release in the brain. Read the article, and let’s work this into the discussion. Here’s to it!

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12 Jul

Because You Can’t Take Yolks to Work

Nutrition, meet snack.

Smart snacking. Thanks, Program Witch!

12 Jul

The Yolk’s On You

Apologies for that headline.

By now, most folks are aware that eggs are not unhealthy despite their high cholesterol content. (Though not everyone, because Eggbeaters is still in business!) Eggs contain quality protein, fat, and important vitamins and minerals. Most of the nutrition is found in the yolk of the egg, which is why we’re making the yolk this week’s Smart Fuel.

Paul Goyette’s Flickr Photo (CC)

Yolks contain a plethora of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that nourish your eyes, your brain, your heart and your mood. A sampling: lutein, selenium, vitamin D, vitamin E, Omega-3’s, sulfur, tryptophan, choline, magnesium, B12, the complete amino acid profile, and much more. Yolks are truly one of the most dense nutrition sources on earth. Take a look at this rundown from the USDA.

Egg tips:

– Choose organic or free-range eggs. Better yet, if you live near any farms, see about purchasing fresh farm eggs. The best yolks are a rich yellow.

– You can eat eggs after the “sell by” date, but definitely toss them a week beyond that. Fresh is best with eggs, both for safety and nutrition.

– If you aren’t sure about the freshness, plunk your egg in a bowl of water. If it rises, it’s old. If it sinks or bobs near the bottom, it’s fresh.

– It’s not really a smart idea to eat eggs every day, because allergies can sometimes develop (this is true of many foods). But several eggs a week is genius.

More Smart Fuel

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11 Jul

The 7 Habits of Thin (Healthy) People


Bibliona Flickr Photo (CC)

There are more diets than donuts, and the truth is that most of them will work in the short-term. But the reason few diets work long-term is because they are rarely sustainable for a number of reasons: boredom, severe restrictions, expense, impracticality, and so on. Most diets are vanity diets – we start them because we want to look sexy in that swim suit, rather than be fit and healthy. If humans actually thought with the end in view, we wouldn’t see such exorbitant rates of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

If you want to lose weight, I’d first encourage you to think about why you have the desire to do so. If it’s to impress everyone at your upcoming reunion, that’s certainly harmless (hey, we’re all vain). But I hope that you plan to lose weight for more than your reflection in the mirror. Studies show time and again that just a few pounds of weight loss can reduce your risk for diabetes, heart disease, depression and stroke. We don’t often think about the long-term, but we should. Changing your lifestyle right now – today – will yield you feel-good results for many years to come. And you’ll lose the weight sooner than you think, making a lifestyle change smart for the short-term, as well.

Here are seven essential steps for following a healthy lifestyle that will naturally shed those extra pounds. You cannot maintain long-term weight loss and simultaneous good health if you don’t make these changes.

1. Carbs: know good from bad

You frequent readers know that I ascribe to a diet rather like the “Paleo diet” or “Caveman diet”. My views on human biology inform my nutritional bent that I call “Primal Health“. I recommend complete exclusion of all refined starches, sugars and grains, and beyond that, I recommend that you choose vegetables, fruits, squashes, and legumes over wheat-based grain carbohydrates such as pasta and bread. Know good carbs from bad carbs. You don’t have to eliminate carbs entirely to remain slender (unless you happen to be very intolerant to begin with, as I believe many of us are). Axing an entire macro-nutrient is a recipe for a health disaster (and serious boredom, let’s be honest). But you need far fewer carbohydrates – particularly the ones that rapidly spike your blood sugar – than the U.S. government’s food pyramid tells you to get. See my Carb Pyramid below for more help with this.

2. Fat: ditto

You cannot be healthy without fat. Period. Fat is required for all kinds of important processes in the body, including digestion and nutrient absorption. But it’s not simply about health: you likely will not be able to maintain fighting form without fat, as well. We all avoided fat in the 90s, and nobody got skinny – just diabetic and depressed, evidently. Fat is high in calories, but being so nutritionally dense, it’s a smart, hunger-staving source of fuel. You’ll actually be able to maintain a healthy weight more easily if you nourish your body with a little fat at each meal. Focus on getting primarily “good fats” in your diet from grass-fed, organic meats, raw nuts, pure nut butters, wild fish, and olive oil.

3. Nutrition counts

You don’t want to do the cookie diet if you hope to have a shred of health in a few years’ time, though you can lose weight on cookies. Heck, you can lose weight on Snickers bars if you choose – but you will create a severe health deficit that is guaranteed to add up down the road. And if you feel like crap, who cares about being thin? Think about what you can maintain over a lifetime. Once you lose the weight from the latest miracle fad diet, what will you do? A sensible lifestyle focused on nutritious food is an actual strategy for a lifetime, not simply this month. Moreover, nutrition does eventually impact metabolism. Specifically, consuming sugar creates an inflammatory response, forces the liver to dump more fat in the bloodstream (triglycerides), and impacts hormones that regulate metabolism (see this article for a detailed explanation).

4. Portions

The reason most any diet, no matter how kooky, works – at least initially – is because they all typically restrict calories to between 1000 and 1600 calories per day depending on your height and size. But there’s nothing miraculous about this. And you don’t have to follow any particular diet to do this (although your particular diet does matter for health). There is nothing magical about the Mediterranean Diet’s recipes or Slim Fast twice a day. There is no secret ingredient. They all simply get you to cut calories. To lose weight, and to maintain it over a lifetime, eat a variety of delicious foods you enjoy but keep the portions small. You can invent your own diet, or check out what I eat in a day. Eat all the steak, butter and cream you want, if that floats your boat, or go vegetarian if you prefer. Just keep your portions reasonable – no matter what you eat, if you eat too much, the body is going to store it. End of story. And watch it, bacon-lovers: when creating your own lifestyle menu, aim for foods that are nutritionally-dense, natural, fresh, and whole (focus on unprocessed sources of Omega-3’s, lean protein, and fiber). And then just eat less of it all.

5. Water

Though I don’t go in for the whole 8-glasses-a-day myth (and it’s been heavily debunked by now), water is essential to health and weight maintenance. I hope I don’t need to pontificate on this one. Drink at least a few glasses a day, for the sake of your digestion, mood, mental clarity, organs, blood and overall health. Remember that food cravings, especially for sugar, are often a sign of dehydration. Drink. If you are drinking calories (liquor, milkshakes, energy drinks, lattes) instead of drinking water, you’re sabotaging both your health and your chance for meaningful weight loss.

6. Exercise

Exercise is as close a thing to a health panacea as we’re likely to ever get. Exercise reduces your risk across the board for diseases, obesity, depression, insomnia, anxiety, hormone imbalances, and much more. Exercise 3 or 4 times a week won’t necessarily make you lose weight (remember calories!). But sitting on the couch watching TV definitely won’t. If you have time to watch the news, you have time to exercise. A postprandial walk is absolutely acceptable – you do not have to be a slave to cardio or take up residence at the local gym. Just move daily. If you don’t use your muscles, your body thinks you don’t need them and begins to shed them along with precious osseous (bone) material. Exercise has cumulative benefits, meaning the longer you do it, the more impact it generates – including elevating your resting metabolism. You can drop a few pounds without lifting a finger, but you cannot be healthy. Period.

7. Hormone balance

This is one that doesn’t get discussed as much, but it’s vital to address. Hormones that are out of balance can trigger depression, which is linked to obesity. Further, excess stress to the adrenal cortex, which produces over 30 critically important hormones, can also cause weight gain (you can read more about the cortisol-weight gain connection in tomorrow’s Primal Health). And a dysfunctional thyroid can also cause incredibly stubborn excess weight. If you eat a truly healthful diet and exercise at least 3 times a week but cannot lose weight, you may have a hormonal issue that needs a specialist’s attention. And bear in mind that unhealthy lifestyle choices such as excessive alcohol intake, smoking, junk food, and drug use can and do interact – sometimes dangerously so – with your hormones.

Being both healthy and lean is entirely within your reach. Think lifestyle.

Further reading:

It’s the Calories, not the Carbs

My Carb Pyramid

Carbs Are not the Devil

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11 Jul

Clickativity: Deep Fried Pizza

Part of any diet plan, clearly.


An important part of any sensible weight-loss plan!

On the agenda for today, Apples:

Mark’s Primal Health column will hit the page tomorrow, because for today we’re bringing you some more can’t-miss weight loss tips. So easy, a pizza could do it.

© 2015 Mark's Daily Apple

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