Fermented Foods & Probiotics

This past winter I got into the habit of consuming homemade sauerkraut on a regular basis. I did this for a few reasons:

First, it tastes delicious! In my opinion, any vegetable is improved when salt is added and the texture is softened.

Second, I feel good buying local foods and eating seasonally.

It’s easy to get in the habit of picking up a box of spinach and having the same salad for lunch. However, regularly buying prepackaged and prewashed spinach, flown in overnight from California in the middle of December, makes little sense. But, buying a dozen heads of local cabbage in the fall, to shred and store in jars for the winter, is much more natural and earth-friendly.

Thirdly, it introduces more variety to my diet.

Every food has a distinctive nutrient profile. For example, sauerkraut will provide more Vitamin C than spinach.

Conversely, all plant-based foods contain anti-nutrients. Over-consumption of oxalic acid in spinach interferes with mineral absorption. Fermenting or cooking vegetables breaks down anti-nutrients.

Finally, fermented foods provide beneficial probiotics to the body.

As research progresses, we learn that more and more of our health is dependent upon the intestines or gut. This is one of the last stops for everything we consume and is a vast ecosystem with over 100 trillion living microorganisms. The balance of these microorganisms, or bacteria, determine how our bodies function. 80% of our immune system exists in our guts and literally hundreds of health conditions can be tied to the balance of its bacteria.

Although the science of this ecosystem, known as the gut flora or microbiota, is still developing, we are aware of some general affects.

Non-digestible fiber, known as prebiotics, found in vegetables and fruits, stimulate the growth of advantageous bacteria in our gut.

Probiotics, living cultures present in fermented foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut, also benefit our gut flora.

Alternatively, antibiotics and excessive sanitary practices, although sometimes necessary to fight disease, can destroy healthy gut flora.

Unnatural foods such as refined sugar and artificial sweeteners also starve good bacteria. This is one proposed reason that sugar-free and even calorie-free products, such as diet soda, still result in weight gain and diabetes.

Finally, overconsumption of grains feed bacteria with inflammatory properties. Some constituents of grains even have the ability to tear through the gut lining, resulting in autoimmune conditions such as arthritis, eczema, and GERD.

Since I have little need for antibiotics and have already replaced grains with vegetables, regularly consuming probiotics from fermented foods is that last major step I can take to improve my gut health.

The best part about fermenting food – it’s easy!

  1. Simply shred or finely chop desired vegetable.
  2. Massage thoroughly with non-iodized salt until vegetable juices are released.
  3. Pack into a glass jar and fill with water.
  4. Weight down vegetables under water to prevent mold from growing! Check regularly for visible mold growth resulting from vegetables floating above the water line.
  5. Let jar sit at room temperature for desired amount of time. Do a quick Internet search to confirm appropriate fermentation time. Some foods only take a few days while others can take months!

So far I have made and LOVED sauerkraut and beet kvass. I have also tried fermenting raw goat milk with kefir cultures but did not enjoy the taste.

Use trial and error to find your favorite inputs and fermentation time. At worst, you’ll dislike the strong vinegar flavor and lose about 15 minutes of preparation time. At best, you’ll improve the health and function of your entire body!

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Fasting

As some of you may have noticed I didn’t post anything on my blog last week. I swear I haven’t become lazy; and unfortunately I wasn’t enjoying a vacation; instead, I was stuck in bed with the worst stomach bug in years!

After surviving on chicken broth for 5 days, I am back to work and my regular life revolving around fitness and nutrition.

In order to better accept the losses I suffered last week, I had to find a silver lining to my sickness. One of the only positives is that I experienced an “extended protein fast”.

Fasting refers to a time we are not consuming nutrients. Most of us fast overnight while sleeping. Some of us fast longer for various health reasons.

I try to extend an overnight fast to about 16 hours on the weekends. To do this, I have dinner on Friday and Saturday between 6 and 8 PM and don’t eat again until after noon the next day.

Fasting has the following benefits:

  1. Increased fat burning. In the absence of carbs, and insulin, the body ramps up lipolysis or it’s natural fat-burning abilities.
  2. Cellular maintenance. When we are fed, our body is working to use and store nutrients in cells. When we give our body a break from this process, it can repair damaged cells and recycle bad ones…known as cell autophagy. This helps prevent the growth of cancers and can extend lifespan.
  3. Improved metabolism and hunger signals. Simply put, the more frequently we eat, the more frequently our body wants food! Additionally, a diet high in sugars or processed fats can override our natural hunger signals and trick us into thinking we need more food. By fasting, we are able to adjust our metabolism and re-balance hunger signaling.
  4. Benefits to blood markers. Fasting allows the body to move cholesterol around in the body as it is needed, resulting in lower blood cholesterol numbers. Blood pressure and blood sugar levels will also go down.
  5. Better hormone levels. Fasting can increase growth hormone release in the body, allowing recovery within the body.
  6. Improved mental functioning. Occasional fasts improve neurological processes. In addition, fasting can pause pre-occupation with food and cravings. Meditation is more effective when done in a fasted state.

There are many more benefits but these are the top ones supported by science.

A “protein fast”, as I was forced to experience last week, is merely a time without protein or essential amino acids. This has many of the same benefits but allows for some calories and nutrients to still be consumed.

The greatest benefit of a protein fast is that it retrains the body how to use protein efficiently.

This is not as important if you are eating a low-protein diet – below one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. But for someone such as myself, consuming over this amount daily, the body can start to convert excess protein to carbohydrates. This is an inefficient process in the body and a waste of money since high-quality protein is far more expensive than healthy carbs.

Fasting may not be a good idea if you have ever struggled with eating disorders, are an insulin-dependent diabetic, or under an immense amount of stress.

Fasting is not a cure all. It would fall under the category of a “hermetic response”.

Hormesis is a beneficial response within our body to a low level of toxin or stress. Fasting is one such stressor. It can improve our health but, if overdone or done incorrectly, it can have dire consequences.

The takeaway from all this is:

  • Don’t worry if you miss a meal. Your metabolism won’t shut down. The lean body mass you worked hard for won’t evaporate. In fact, body composition and health may improve!
  • Only experiment with purposeful fasting after the major health factors are taken care of. Sleeping a minimum of 8 hours, engaging in daily activity or exercise, and eating a diet based around plants and protein will provide far more immediate benefits. What’s worse, if you aren’t sleeping or eating properly, forcing yourself to fast may damage your health even more!

Once again, conventional wisdom recommending to eat every 3 hours to keep blood sugar up and metabolism running, may not be perfectly accurate. Eating the right foods when you are hungry, and not eating when you are not hungry, will be far more beneficial to your mental and physical health!

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Top 5 Proteins, Carbs, and Fats

One of the most exciting things about having a blog is the tremendous feedback I get from people throughout the day.

Direct and simple posts, including lists or comparisons, tend to earn the most praise. For that reason, my blog this week will be a list of the top 5 healthiest proteins, fats, and carbs, in order.

Protein:

  1. Organ Meats – Although these have fallen out of favor in modern American culture, organs, such as liver and kidney, are the healthiest sources of protein in the world.
  2. Shellfish & Other Fish – A single oyster may offer 70% Vitamin D, 300% Vitamin B12, 500% Zinc, 200% Copper, and 75% Selenium for the day! All seafood will be high in Omega 3, vitamin D, calcium, and selenium, so eat up!
  3. Pork – Believe it or not, pork raised on a natural diet of nuts, fruits, and small rodents will offer more vitamins and minerals per serving than any other animal! The difficulty is finding a source that hasn’t been raised on grains and corn.
  4. Beef – Grass-fed and grass-finished of course! A mere 14 days of corn or grain “finishing” can skew the omega 3 profile of the meat, leading to the risks commonly associated with “red meat”.
  5. Eggs – Yolks are one of natures multivitamins. They contain Vitamin A, D, and B12, along with Riboflavin, Phosphorus, and Selenium. Even more importantly, they offer a healthy dose of Sterols, necessary for proper hormone function and protection against heart disease!

Carbs:

  1. Herbs & Spices – These have more vitamins and minerals, with less calories, than any other plants in the world!
  2. Vegetables – With most calories coming from fiber, and still chalk full of nutrients, veggies are the second most valuable carbohydrate source.
  3. Legumes – These still contain nutritious with a reasonable amount of fiber, but humans can only reap the benefits by soaking and sprouting the bean first. Consumption of beans before sprouting will result in unpleasant digestive effects, lack of nutrient absorption, and possible inflammation within the body. Also keep in mind they are rather high in “active” carbs, so save them for workout days!
  4. Fruits – A delicious, raw, and living food! Berries are the best, with more fiber and less sugar, but most fruits will be “self-limiting”, hopefully preventing overconsumption of the fructose they contain.
  5. Roots & Tubers – Different types of potatoes and various roots will contain more active carbs than most other plants, but still offer a decent nutrient profile. For those of you that are very active, exercising in the 75-95% range on a regular basis, opt for a “carb reefed” consisting of these post-workout.

Fats:

  1. Nuts & Seeds – These will offer more vitamins and minerals, along with fiber, than any other fat source. However, they can be very easy to over-consume so either buy them in the shell or portion out one serving before eating. Soaking is once again necessary to improve nutrient aborption.
  2. Avocadoes – A truly perfect food! Loaded with healthy fats, fiber, and tons of nutrients. Not to mention portable and versatile. I usually have one every day.
  3. Grass-fed Butter – Vitamin A, K, D, along with stable and healthy fats and beneficial sterols…there’s really no wrong use for butter. Cook in it, top veggies with it…heck, it’s even become popular to put it in coffee to make “bulletproof coffee”.
  4. Animal Fats & Oils – The days of extracting, bleaching, aromatizing, and processing oils from corn, canola, and soy is over! Leave behind these rancid, inflammation promoting substitutes and use what nature provides – tallow from cows, leftover grease from healthy bacon, etc.
  5. Coconut – Although coconut does not contain a wide array of vitamins, it offers many benefits to the body. It can increase metabolism, improve skin and hair health, and even function as an anti-microbial or anti-viral substance.

And with that, we have a list of the top 5 healthiest foods from each macronutrient category. Build your meals around these foods you’ll be on your way to perfecting your health!

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Pancake Recipe

My biggest qualm with the current “gluten-free fad” dominating society is that companies market gluten-free alternatives that are just as unhealthy as the original product!

A prime example is the industry of baked goods, including cookies, cakes, pancakes, muffins, and bagels. While over-consumption of gluten can “tip the scales” towards autoimmune conditions developing, loading up on highly-processed, sugar-laden, pastry-like substance is a much bigger problem.

However, I am human as well – I love a home baked cookie or pancakes as Sunday brunch. For this reason, I wanted to share the best grain-free pancake recipe I have ever tried.

  1. In one bowl, mix 2 tablespoons coconut flour, 2 tablespoons ground flaxseeds, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ½ teaspoon baking powder, and a pinch salt.
  2. In another bowl, mix ½ cup coconut milk, 2 eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and a drizzle of honey.
  3. Combine powdered mixture and liquid mixture and stir. It’s important to wait at least 5 minutes for the flaxseeds to absorb the liquid, thereby creating the typical pancake batter we are all so fond of.
  4. Grease nonstick pans with coconut oil and set heat to low. Pour batter into pans and cook at least 5 minutes on each side. Once several bubbles have developed in batter, you know its time to flip them.
  5. Serve with desired toppings and enjoy!

The best thing about this recipe is that it will provide 3 large pancakes without a great deal of ingredients. What other pancake or waffle recipe only calls for 4 tablespoons of ground mix?

Another amazing thing about this recipe is that it can be modified to meet your tastes or needs.

If you are active and have a sweet tooth, load the pancakes with bananas, top with berries, or drizzle maple syrup on top.

If you prefer a richer and more sustaining breakfast, top with almond butter and maybe add a tablespoon or two of powdered 100% cacao into the mix.

No matter what fruit, nut, or natural product you add, these pancakes will provide far more nutrients, with far less detriments, than typical flour pancakes, or even gluten-free, alternatives!

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Recovery Techniques

If I could spend all day in the gym, lifting weights, I would. However, I’ve learned the body doesn’t make its progress in the gym. It’s the recovery…the rest and eventual return to a greater stimulus…that helps us reach health and fitness goals.

My favorite recovery techniques are as follows.

Walking – I believe walking is the best form of aerobic activity (swimming may be better but not always as convenient). The benefits of walking are too numerous to list but it certainly helps stretch, and increase blood flow, to recently trained muscles. Depending on your surroundings, you may benefit from the tranquility of nature and avoidance of the over-stimulation of modern life.

Stretching – Recent studies suggest “static” stretching (holding and gently pulling on or pushing against a muscle) does not increase flexibility or recovery and may even increase the risk of injury if done before a workout. However, I’ve experienced nothing but positive results when stretching after a workout or hot shower.

Mobility Work – Before working out, I use “dynamic” warm-up routines. These involve active motions, performed with little to no weight, engaging the same muscles as the exercises I’ll be performing that day. I do about 10 movements, for 5-10 reps, focused on upper or lower body. Some examples would be arm swings, bodyweight squats, or torso twists. On my recovery days, I do closer to 20 movements working all the major muscle groups of the body. I find this helps me feel agile and flexible for the day.

Foam Rolling – This may be one of my favorite recovery techniques…well, besides deep-tissue massage which is far more expensive. Most fitness stores have a variety of foam tubes that you can roll on to help massage your muscles. Start with something soft and work up to more firm tubes or PVC pipes. I recently bought a TriggerPoint that is made of metal. It is filled with water so it can be frozen to provide an ice-bath affect while massaging sore muscles.

Alternating Water Temperature – For centuries, athletes have used ice-baths to help recover from workouts. The science behind this is still uncertain but I swear by a shower alternating between progressively hotter and colder water. This seems to wake me up in the morning, relax and cool me off at bed, and make my muscles feel infinitely better.

Protein – That 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight will provide adequate amino acids for the muscles to rebuild after training. Try to consume a complete protein source within 30 minutes of your training session to jump-start the recovery process. Experiment with different intake levels but, keep in mind, if you are consuming more protein than your body can assimilate on a regular basis, it will be converted to carbs and start registering as a fuel rather than a nutrient for rebuilding.

Omega 3 – Remember all that talk about the anti-inflammatory nature of Omega 3’s and the inflammation caused by Omega 6’s? For that reason, try to maximize your intake of things like wild-caught fish and grass-fed beef while minimizing your intake of modern vegetable oils and nuts.

Carbs – Some carbs, like grains and legumes, are very inflammatory while others, like sweet potatoes and fruits, may be anti-inflammatory. Opt for higher quality carbs and consume enough to sustain your training. If you are doing high-intensity work, training multiple times a day, or trying to gain weight, more carbs, particularly starch, will be essential to recovery. Finally, try to consume the majority of your carbs post-workout. The muscles will be primed to absorb glucose and the carbs help transport amino acids and other nutrients post-workout.

Magnesium – Magnesium helps the muscles relax and efficiently utilize glucose. To incorporate two recovery methods at once, take a hot bath with 1 cup of Epsom Salt (magnesium) for 15-30 minutes, and then rinse with cold water.

Sleep – This may be the most important yet overlooked aspect in recovery. It is during the first few hours of sleep that the greatest release of human growth hormone occurs. Try shutting down all electronics an hour or two before bed, use room-darkening shades, and set up a source of white noise such as a fan. Shoot for 8-10 hours of sleep a night. You may feel fine with 6 but try for a minimum of 8 and see how your body and mind performs.

These are the tactics I use on a regular basis. I think professional massages and meditation sessions are very valuable but haven’t had time to incorporate them into my regular routine.

Hopefully this post provides you with new ideas for optimizing your recovery. As always, contact me to let me know what did or did not work well for you, or if you want more specifics about these techniques.

Now make some time for rest & relaxation!

Firemen Causing Fires!

This past week I stumbled across a discussion online of a TV show that aired recently. The show told an interesting story that I’d love to share.

Many years ago, researchers and epidemiologists got together in attempt to reduce the number of fires in the United States. Fire, whether accidental or on purpose, can cause injury and even loss of life.

After sifting through all the data available, a common theme was discovered – firemen were almost always present at fires!

For this reason, the United States passed guidelines recommending that the general public avoid calling firemen in such situations. The association between firemen and fires was clear.

Sure – matches, flammable substances, and improperly wired electronics were also present in many fires. But firemen, with their brightly colored gear and fire truck sirens, were a much more apparent similarity in all incidents.

The public avoided calling firemen and even took measures to reduce the number of active firemen on duty. The number of fires grew in the U.S. every year, but since we had our culprits, we figured we just weren’t strict enough in our fight against firefighters.

For 50 years this continued, until enough people challenged the status quo. The initial studies were easily disproven. Anecdotally, people saw more reduction in fires after improving wiring in their homes and avoiding flammable materials. Enough scientists, researchers, and media sources shared alternative ideas.

Finally, in 2015, the “powers that be” have admitted, for the first time since 1957, that perhaps firemen are not the cause of fires!

Now clearly this is an analogy – but the simplicity of the message really struck home with me.

In this story, fires represent heart attacks and cardiovascular disease. Firemen represent cholesterol. Matches, flammable substances, and unsafe wiring represent man-made fats (such as canola and corn oil) and sugar.

When our nation was confronted with rising rates of cardiovascular disease, we looked at various blood markers in individuals that suffered heart attacks. The first thing we saw was high cholesterol levels. Immediately, our nation concluded that cholesterol was the cause of heart disease. For 50 years the medical community did everything possible to lower blood cholesterol levels.

However, it turns out that cholesterol in the blood, much like firemen at a fire scene, exist to protect us!

When there is inflammation within the blood, caused by overconsumption of carbs or vegetable oils, the body sends cholesterol to protect the artery walls from damage. In an ideal situation, the period of carb and unnatural fat overconsumption ends, and the cholesterol is carried away.

Atherosclerosis, or buildup of plaque within the arteries, occurs when inflammation does not end. This results in the oxidization and hardening of beneficial cholesterol.

This past week, new guidelines were set forth recommending that the public pay more attention to sugar consumption than cholesterol and fat. Keep in mind that all carbohydrates (besides fiber) are broken down into sugars eventually.

Start your day with plenty of whole eggs, don’t fear fatty grass-fed steak, and request more specifics (such as particle size and count) when your doctor tries to prescribe statins to lower blood cholesterol levels.

Just because firemen are the first to arrive at a fire doesn’t mean they are to blame!

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Omega-3 Healthy Fats

A frequent topic on my blog is the Omega-3 content of food and its affect on the human body. Many studies and articles regarding nutrition also discuss the value of Omega-3. Foods and products in the market are even advertised by drawing attention to their Omega-3 content.

Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid. This means it cannot be made by the body and must be consumed through diet.

Omega-3 falls under the polyunsaturated group of fats. The chemical structure of these fats have multiple double bonds and are the least stable, putting them at risk of oxidation and rancidity. For this reason, Omega-3’s are best consumed fresh, with minimal heating, processing, or storing.

One of the most important roles of Omega-3 is in the development of the brain. They also contribute to proper functioning of cell receptors within cell membranes; signaling hormone release; change in artery wall consistency; and inflammation levels throughout the entire body.

Recent studies suggest that adequate Omega-3 intake may protect against cardiovascular disease and cancer, and improve cognitive functioning throughout life.

There are two main forms of Omega-3:

  1. DHA / EPA. These are the optimal and most essential forms of Omega-3. They are found predominately in fish and other marine life, but are present in any living creature. They are also present in dairy and eggs.
  2. ALA is a form of Omega-3 found in plants, including seeds, nuts, and legumes. Unfortunately, humans convert less than 5% of ALA to the DHA form necessary for our bodies.

The distinction between these forms is crucial as it can lead to deficiencies and negative health consequences.

Very often, products with nut or seed oils are marketed as having a certain amount of Omega-3’s. Heck, I have a bag of ground flaxseed in my fridge right now that boasts “2800mg Omega-3 per serving”. Flax, along with other nuts and seeds, may be an excellent source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, but ultimately provides no useable Omega-3 for my body.

The purpose of ALA, in nature, is to be converted to EPA and DHA by other creatures with different digestive systems. For example, pigs and chickens that eat nuts and seeds will contain more EPA and DHA than grain fed animals. Eggs and dairy from animals consuming a diet rich in ALA will provide more active Omega-3 as well.

The sun provides energy that only plants can use. Plants provide certain nutrients only animals can use. After the animals have played their role in converting these nutrients, humans are left with the most bioavailable nutrients in a tasty, healthy, and natural package.

For all you vegans out there – don’t fear! There is one plant source of Omega-3 EPA: algae. Fortunately, EPA can be converted to DHA, thus providing the essential Omega-3 fatty acids the human body needs. My favorite brand for Omega-3 supplements is Nordic Naturals…here is a link to their Algae Omega oil.

A final important role of Omega-3 is to counteract the inflammatory effects of Omega-6.

Both Omega-3 and Omega-6 are essential, polyunsaturated fats that, when consumed fresh and unprocessed, help maintain optimal health. However, the foods we eat most often in this country (seeds, grains, and processed oils) are exponentially higher in Omega-6 than Omega-3.

Below is a list of a few common foods, and how much wild-caught salmon would be necessary to counteract the inflammatory Omega-6 content of each.

Oatmeal (1 cup) = 2.5 ounces salmon

Canola Oil (1 tablespoon) = 4 ounces salmon

Quinoa (1 cup) = 7 ounces salmon

Soybean Oil (1 tablespoon) = 10 ounces salmon

Walnuts (1 ounce) = 15 ounces salmon

This is one of the primary reasons I recommend replacing most grains and processed oils with vegetables and healthy proteins. Salmon, grass-fed beef, and butter from grass-fed cows, will provide far more Omega-3, with less Omega-6, than modern, man-made alternatives.

Hopefully this summary of the importance of Omega-3 provides yet another reason to return to eating whole foods in the proportions nature intended. On weekends I usually go out for sushi so I know I’ll be enjoying a sashimi platter tomorrow!

Sashimi

Abdominal Exercises

Most of us are familiar with typical situps and crunches. These movements have been the primary abdominal exercises for the last few decades. Why? Because they can be done anytime, anywhere, with little focus. They are easy to “progress” by simply doing more. Finally, they leave the stomach sore. All these things sound pretty good, right?

Unfortunately, situps are one of the worst exercises for abdominal strength and stability!

The main problem with situps is that they are performed in a posture that places a great deal of stress on the spine. Unnecessary curving of the spine may damage the discs in the back and produce wear-and-tear on the vertebrae. We already tend to hunch in front of computers, driving cars, and carrying heavy objects – why exacerbate this rounded posture during exercise too?

coreAnother problem is that poorly performed situps, involving a bouncing motion and a pull from the legs, will only target one of many “core” muscles– the rectus abdominis. The hip flexors in the front of the thighs and hips, along with upper body muscles, will assist in the situp motion, taking focus away from the core. It is also very easy to “cheat” this exercise by relying upon momentum or a bounce off the ground.

Finally, situps are not a functionally specific movement. Very rarely in life do we have to fold our bodies forward at the hips. Alternatively, we do have to brace with all the muscles in our core when lifting an unwieldy object or even stepping down stairs.

Now that we know situps place undue stress on the back, don’t effectively work all the core muscles, and are not a functional movement, let’s look at some alternatives.

The single best exercise to learn is a “plank”. Start by laying facedown on the floor with the forearms andplank toes in contact with the ground. Tighten through the core, or think about drawing the bellybutton towards the lower back, to raise the hips off the ground until your back is straight. Hold this position for 3 seconds before slowly lowering the hips back to the ground. Perform for 10 repetitions. As these become easier, extend the time and eventually add more motion.

DeadBugAnother excellent movement is known as “dead bugs”. For this exercise, lay on your back, bring your arms and legs straight up toward the ceiling, and bend the knees to 90 degrees. While maintaining contact between the lower back and the ground, extend your right leg toward the ground and left arm overhead. Pause just before the limb touches the ground and fully exhale. Bring both limbs back up to the starting position and alternate sides. The most important parts of this exercise are making sure the lower back does not arch, and that you don’t forcibly hold your breath in the bottom position. Both these errors will result in lessened activation of the core muscles.

These exercises will target the deep core muscles, specifically the transverse abdominals and obliques, more effectively than situps. And, as previously mentioned, we’ll be working the core while lengthening the spine, ensuring better posture.

I hope this post provides some insight into how best strengthen the core, thereby relieving back pain while improving posture and balance. Please let me know if you’d like more exercise ideas or would like me to review the efficacy of other movements.

As always, thanks for reading!

Some content on this page was disabled on August 6, 2015 as a result of a DMCA takedown notice from William Artamon. You can learn more about the DMCA here:

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Light Therapy Review

A few months ago I purchased a dawn simulation / light-therapy lamp. Before this, regardless how early I fell sleep, waking up before sunrise would leave me groggy and slow moving for hours. I even tried moving my bedtime up to 8PM but still woke up wanting more sleep!

The theory behind “light-boxes” is that they produce the same frequency of light as the sun, thereby stimulating serotonin production in the brain. Release of serotonin at the start of the day is one of the primary methods by which our body regulates wakefulness and alertness in the morning.

The specific model I purchased is the BlueMax Sunrise System Model 320. I picked this one because it is the only one that has a built in alarm function AND bulbs capable of reaching 10,000 LUX. The alarm function allows the user to set a wake period so that the light grows gradually brighter. The powerful bulbs emit a level of light that is supposed to be effective in treating S.A.D. (Season Affective Disorder).

Below are the pros and cons I have experienced with my specific light-box.

Pros:

  1. I definitely felt more alert in the morning after a mere 15 minutes of exposure to this light.
  2. It is small and durable enough to move from one room to the other. This allowed me to use it while preparing food in the kitchen and then move it to my dining table during breakfast.
  3. This could entirely be placebo but the notion of having a “serotonin-stimulating” tool available helped get me out of bed immediately upon rising.

Cons:

  1. This model cost $165. The price is justified by the company because it is the only light on the market that offers full spectrum bulbs AND an alarm function.
  2. The time and date settings get erased upon unplugging. This may not be a problem if the light-box is only used as an alarm clock in the bedroom. However, I wanted more exposure time before leaving my apartment, which meant I carried it from one room to another, completely negating the clock functions.
  3. Although I have not had any bulbs die in the 2 months I’ve owned this lamp, I have heard that they cannot be changed. This is a major issue considering the price of the light and the fact that it has over a dozen tiny internal bulbs.

Ultimately, I would not recommend this specific model.

A typical “light-therapy” box can be purchased for as little as $50. The clock and alarm function on this model does not justify the $100 price difference. Plus, if you are like me and want to start your day with as much “blue-light” exposure as possible, the clock will have to be reset every night in order to use the alarm setting the following morning.

I would recommend buying a basic light therapy lamp capable of 10,000 LUX. The exposure to this light has definitely helped improve my morning alertness while reducing the time it takes for me to get moving.

Remember, there will never be a substitute for 8 to 9 hours of quality sleep! But, if you are like me and have trouble getting up before the sun rises, an investment in one of these lights may make your mornings a little bit easier.

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An Avocado A Day…

It seems everyday a new study emerges showing that eating more dietary fats improves cholesterol levels. At the same time, carbohydrate consumption tends to have a much more negative affect in most diseases and health conditions.

One recent study suggests that fats found in nature, in this case avocados, are more beneficial than their man-made counterparts, such as canola and sunflower seed oil.

Although the sample size was small (only 45 individuals), the structuring was far more reliable than most diet “studies”. Most studies look at massive populations to form weak correlations between food and health. This study, however, used randomized, crossover, controlled feeding trials.

The experiment separated participants into three groups:

  1. A group eating a low-fat diet. Fat accounted for about 25% of daily calories, in line with USDA recommendations.
  2. A group eating a moderate-fat diet, accounting for 35% of calories. The extra fat calories in this group came from processed seed oils.
  3. A group eating a moderate-fat diet, with extra fat coming for one whole avocado a day. Fat still accounted for about 35% of calories.

After a mere 5 weeks, the moderate-fat group consuming seed oil saw a reduction in “bad cholesterol” of almost 10 points. The low-fat group experienced a statistically insignificant drop of less than 5 points.

The truly remarkable part: the moderate-fat group eating one avocado a day experienced an average reduction of almost 15 points!

This could be due to a couple factors.

First, avocados contain 14 grams of fiber, more than 3 servings of oatmeal! Fiber reduces blood sugar spikes and helps the body transport cholesterol.

Second, avocados are extremely nutrient-dense, providing 15% to 50% of almost every vitamin and mineral. Man-made oils contain no essential nutrients.

I started eating one avocado a day almost 3 years ago and almost immediately noticed this benefit to my cholesterol levels.

The nice thing is that avocado has a very mild taste and can be seasoned to compliment almost any dish. Sometimes I’ll have an avocado with an omelet in the morning. Other times I’ll make guacamole as a substitute for a bun when I have burgers for dinner. It is very rare that I skip this valuable and versatile food.

My final takeaway from this study:

Replace man-made fats, such as canola and soybean oil, with whole foods like avocado and coconuts. You’ll feel full longer, provide your body with more nutrients, improve blood markers of health, and get closer to eating what nature provides!

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