Having a Tough Time Understanding Nutrition Labels?

 Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Determining fat content, serving size, pronouncing ingredients–nutrition labels are often so confusing. But a recent bill introduced by three democrats on Sept. 19th may offer some help for those who just don’t understand labels. This legislation, introduced to the Senate, would require processed foods and drinks to produce certain changes.

Regulators would create a key for extra visuals and allow you to more easily determine the nutritional content of a food product. For example, cues and symbols would designate just how healthy a product really is, all based on its caloric content, amount of fat and other criteria. This should aid in the deception some products use to appear healthy, but really are not.

For example, if a good is labeled with grains, it would need to specify the ratio to total grains. Any added sugar would also have to be disclosed right on the label. This makes any product claiming to be healthy really have to prove it actually is healthy. It’s a win for consumers, especially as we’ve been duped by many so called “organic” and “low fat” food products before now.

In addition, labels would get a redesign, hopefully making the ingredients easier to see*:








This is all part of the Proposed Food Labeling Modernization Act of 2013. “The Food Labeling Modernization Act is a comprehensive approach to updating labels so that consumers have the clear, consistent information they need when making important decisions about the food they buy and give to their families,” says Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.)**




Should You Be Juicing?

One of the fastest growing trends in the health and fitness world right now is juicing. While no by any means new, juicing seems to be everywhere now, with people buying bottled fruit and vegetable cocktails or mixing just up their own at home in specially designed machines. With all this attention towards the juicing movement, it begs the question: Is it worth it?


Easy Way to Grab More Greens

The most important benefit that comes along with juicing your fruits and vegetables is that, obviously, it gets you to eat your fruits and vegetables. This is a big deal when you consider that the Centers for Disease Control reports that the average American only eats about 1 serving of fruits and vegetables per day.

Often, though, juicing doesn’t just bring you up to the minimum requirement, you’ll sore right past it. Since one juice can contain a huge number of varied fruits and veggies, you can conceivably drink, in a single sitting, much more than you would be able to eat in a full day.


Other Claims

But the supporters of juicing have taken the claims of what it can do way beyond just boosting your green intake. Juicing has been credited with everything from reducing the risk of heart disease to curing cancer and all of this hinges on the idea that juicing isolates the micronutrients, making them easier for your body to absorb.

The fact is that many of the healing properties associated with juicing are more accurately ascribed to eating more greens in general. Don’t forget that those amazing healing substances found in juice are only there because they were first in the whole plant. There is no proof that juicing makes it easier for your body to make use of these chemicals, either. In fact, the very opposite might be true.


The Downside

According to the American Council on Exercise, the process of juicing can actually greatly reduce the concentration of those highly beneficial chemicals by exposing them to heat, light and oxygen. Additionally, many of these chemicals are contained in the skin of fruits, like apples, which is removed during juicing.

In reality, juicing may mean that you’re sacrificing many of the benefits of your fruits and veggies for convenience. The American Council on Exercise uses the example of one large apple compared to the juice of the same apple to illustrate this point. Both contain roughly the same calories, about 116, but the whole apple offers 5.5g of fiber while the juice will only give you about .5g.

As mentioned, there are no grounds to the claims that fiber stops your body from absorbing other useful chemicals so the lose of fiber isn’t a good thing. The dietary fiber found in plants helps to fill you up and calm your appetite so, without it, you’re likely to be hungry soon after enjoying your juice.


In Its Place

Does this mean that juicing is useless? No, of course not. What it does mean is that it is not a complete substitute for eating the whole food. However, juices can still be an incredibly useful tool to help you get your fruits and vegetables in during a particularly busy day.

Juicing isn’t a magic bullet but, used properly, can help you maintain a health diet.







Are Fad Diets Worth It?

 Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The fourth annual Enhancing Health Through Plant-Based Nutrition conference took place last week in Portland, Ore. One researcher, Susan Levin, MS, RD, CSSD, relayed her studies on the popular fad diets at the moment. They’ve all made headlines and perhaps we’ve even tried/trying one of them. Here is a summary of her research:

Blood Type Diets
I once read a book on this, learning that type O (my blood type) should eat lots of protein. In the book, blood type A should eat close to a vegetarian diet, B should drink milk. Is it true? Does it work? Levin didn’t find any research to back this up. However, she did say following this diet will help you eat less processed foods, which may make you healthier after all.

High Protein
The Atkins diet seems to be a fad that is fading, as followers realized the weight didn’t stay off. Just eating protein can drop pounds quickly, but it’s a lot of water weight. Levin states that a high-protein diet contains too much fat and too few cards to support brain function. Fruits, vegetables and even carbs are a necessity to the diet.

Juice Cleanses
If you are a night owl, you’ve seen the informercials for the latest juicer and how to get in more fruits and vegetables just by drinking them. Levin says that you can lose weight, but just like the Atkins diet, it’s mostly water weight and it will return. Maybe that’s why celebrities do a juice cleanse right before a big event. But overall, it’s high in sugar and you really need solid foods. Save the liquids for when you’re sick!

Currently the most popular fad diet, Paleo follows eating a diet of fish, meat, eggs, vegetables…anything they’d eat during the Paleo era (before the invention of processed foods). On the positive side, it limits junk and packaged foods, but you should vary your diet more.



Enjoy Your Food, Lose Weight

We know that our diet and our mental state are tied closely together. People talk about stress eating and comfort foods while generations of parents have warned “you are what you eat.” But, just how deep does this connection go? New research shows how your mindset before and during the meal can affect your health and even, more excitingly, your weight.


The Pre-Game

How do you eat an Oreo? Do you always eat a lobster in the same order? Or do you fold your pizza in half before digging in? These little pre-meal rituals, that you may not even be aware you have, could play a key role in your weight loss goals.

Often, the problem with any diet is that you don’t enjoy or look forward to your meals. This can leave you feeling unsatisfied and make it more difficult for you to stick to your plan. Interestingly, a study published in the online journal Psychological Science explored the role that those rituals play in your deeper psychological processes.

Through a series of four different experiments, the researchers discovered that doing something simple but systematic had the power to heighten the entire eating experience. The study used lemonade, baby carrots and chocolate bars but regardless of what the food was, it was rated as more enjoyable when attached to a ritual.

Does this mean you have to dream up something to do before every meal? Thankfully, now. It’s important to note that the actions were not random; they were deliberate and planned. The researchers noted that even opening an bottle of wine, including cutting the foil and removing the cork, all count. One of the experiments even involved simply making a glass of lemonade. This brings something powerful and practical to the fore: Preparing your own meal boosts your enjoyment of it.

Why would this help you lose weight? Because when you learn to enjoy healthy foods, like baby carrots, you can retrain your eating habits and build a lasting healthy lifestyle.


Slow Down and Savor the Moments

People, in general, tend to eat quickly. They’re in a constant hurry and meals have commonly been shortened into something more like an extended snack that’s wolfed down between one errand and the next.

This could be a major contributor to the rampant struggle with obesity, for many reasons. For one thing, people are generally more likely to grab the first thing available to them when their busy. Usually, this involves buying something out like fast food with little thought as to the actual nutritional value of the meal.

The almost compulsive act of eating while in a rush usually involves stress, as well. And stress makes you crave foods your might normally avoid.

Slowing down to savor your meals, however, seems to have the opposite effect. Of course, there’s the benefits of making better choices but studies have also shown something a little more unexpected: chewing your food thoroughly helps you lose weight.

There could be several things are work here. The researchers who worked on the study noticed that the subjects who chewed more, 40 times per by to be exact, had lower levels of ghrelin, a hormone that increases appetite. One theory put forth in the study is that the increased number of chews lead to more nutrients being released, which, in turn, increased levels of satisfaction.

However it works, there’s solid reason to slow down for your meals.





A Look At The Controversial Ice Bath

It occurred to me, while preparing this post that I’ve written several pieces on soreness lately. And there’s a good reason for that. Muscle soreness is a fact of life for all athletes, regardless of whether your a runner, baseball player or powerlifter. Because of the many aches and pains we deal with, there have also been many solutions crop up to treat and prevent post-workout soreness.

One of the most prevalent defenses used by athletes is the ice bath. More technically known as cryotherapy, this treatment is exactly what it sounds like: a bath in very, very cold water. Before you go ahead and jump in to give this one a try, you’d probably like to know a few things. What are the benefits of this approach? Is there proof that it actually works?


The Claims

Supporters of this cold and seemingly drastic method of treatment say that the rewards for enduring it are many. As expected, once your body is exposed to this kind of cold, usually around 55 degrees Fahrenheit, your blood vessels constrict and your metabolism slows down. These two factors combine to reduce swelling and the breakdown of tissue normally associated with strenuous workouts.

The good news keeps coming though, once your out of that cold water. As your blood vessels warm back up, they quickly increase blood flow which flushes the cellular byproducts out of your system. Mixed in with that waste is several chemicals that could also contribute to soreness so their removal should swing things in the opposite direction.


Do They Do All That?

The research, for or against, ice baths is confusing, contradictory and a but muddied. There are several studies that have found that cryotherapy does, in fact, reduce muscle soreness, primarily DOMS.

A meta-analysis of 17 studies seemed to back these results, although that is a relatively small number of studies and the authors of the analysis did raise questions regarding the methods of the trials that were considered. Particularly, there’s the problem of the placebo effect. How do you immerse someone in ice-cold water, without them knowing it? You can’t. So there is always a possibility that  their reports of their level of soreness are tainted by psychological effects.

A more recent study, published in July, 2013, considered both relative reports of soreness and more reliable biological markers of swelling. This study found that the ice baths yielded no benefits.

Some have criticized the study, though, for using water that was far too cold and exposing the subjects for far to long. It is true that the 20 minute baths in 40 degree water is much more extreme than is generally used or recommended.


What It All Means

The take away? Science still hasn’t come up with a solid answer on whether or not ice baths can actually help you. But, as with many things, that hasn’t stopped people from using it and loving ice baths. Many runners swear by them and credit the chilly treatment with decades of injury-free activity.

Do your research regarding good techniques and start out slow, if you decide you’d like to try ice baths. As with anything, talk to your doctor before giving this a go since an ice bath could provide an initial shock to your system that might aggravate some conditions.







Watermelon Could Relieve Your Soreness

In a previous post, we discussed the different types of soreness that athletes struggle with in chasing after their fitness goals but, understanding these pains won’t make them any less of a nuisance. Fortunately, as we learn more and more about how the human body works, we find more ways to help relieve these pains. Specifically, a new study, examining post-exercise muscle soreness, has revealed a potentially powerful weapon in these ongoing battle: the watermelon.


How It Works

Watermelon, or more specifically, watermelon juice, has been receiving a lot of positive press lately in the fitness world. And for good reason. The sweet summer snack is loaded with amino acids and antioxidants that could be useful for everything from boosting your immune system to preventing sunburn.

But, some athletes still tend to shy away from watermelon due to it’s high sugar content. Unfortunately, this crowd is also depriving themselves of a healthy dose of the amino acid called citrilline.

This particular amino acid is used in the creation of nitric oxide, a gas that expands the blood vessels and makes sure all of the necessary nutrients reach your muscles to keep them fueled. But citrilline plays another, vitally important role in the body, by supporting the urea cycle.

By aiding in the in creation of urea, citrilline helps to eliminate lactic acid from your body. This vilified byproduct of exercise is to blame for much of the fatigue and soreness that you have to deal with after a long workout.


What The Study Found

Since watermelon is extremely high in citrilline, and citrilline has the above-mentioned benefits, it’s not really a surprise that consuming watermelon would be a useful habit for athletes and even casual exercisers. To make this easier, many juices are available on the market and, of course, can be made at home. The situation is slightly confused, however, by citrilline-enriched juices which might seem to be even more beneficial. To help sort things out, the researchers compared the benefits of both enriched and natural watermelon juices.

According to the study, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, both enriched and natural watermelon juice have the amazing and useful ability to reduce post-exercise muscle soreness when taken an hour before exercise. Both juices were also found to have lowered resting heart rates for 24 hours afterwards as well.

One interesting find from the study had to do with the bioavailability, or the body’s ability to absorb and use the citrilline. These enriched juices, although containing much more citrilline then the natural juices, are also pasteurized. This pasteurization can change the citrilline in a way that, according to the researchers, makes it more difficult to absorb and use.

Ultimately, unpasteurized, natural watermelon juice could be an extremely useful tool against post-exercise muscle soreness.