Seasonal Affective Disorder

For all of my followers in the northeast United States, it’s that time of the year again!

The sun is rising late and setting early, the sky is cloudy, and the temperature is dropping. All this can contribute to a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.).

S.A.D. affects about 6% of the United States every year. Common symptoms may include oversleeping, low energy, carb cravings, poor focus, social withdrawal, lack of pleasure, and hopelessness.

It is believed that S.A.D. is caused by a lack of sunlight, resulting in a skewed circadian rhythm and lowered serotonin levels.

Fortunately, there are many things one can do to combat symptoms and improve their emotions and outlook.

The first step is to purchase a “lightbox” for light therapy. These emit a much brighter and whiter light than typical lamps. Exposure to this bright light, particularly first thing in the morning, will simulate the sunrise, improving serotonin production and establishing a healthy circadian rhythm.

I am in the process of purchasing such a light source and will provide a review of my personal experience with this protocol.

The second recommendation is to stay active. Find 30 to 60 minutes every day for exercise. Exercise is known to improve mood by providing a sense of success as well as releasing endorphins in the brain.

The last recommendation I can make is to eat healthy. This means starting your day with a large serving of protein and ending your day with a moderate serving of carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes or fruits. Adequate protein in the morning, and throughout the day, will provide the body and brain with amino acids necessary for healthy cognitive function and stable emotions. Carbs at night will help induce sleep and up-regulate serotonin production. Eat fewer carbs throughout the day to avoid blood sugar crashes, causing lethargy and furthering negative emotions.

Many people find success with certain supplements. I personally have tried 5-HTP (a serotonin precursor), GABA (a dopamine precursor), and melatonin (the brains natural sleep chemical). Thus far, the melatonin seems to be the most effective, but only at regulating proper sleep-wake cycles. I noticed no results from any other supplement, regardless of timing or dose.

I do increase my supplemental Vitamin D in the winter from 2,000 to 5,000 or 10,000 a day. I don’t notice a direct result from this but I’m lucky if I get 5 minutes of direct sunlight a day when the temperature drops below freezing. Sunlight is our only significant source of vitamin D, and low levels have been linked to depression as well as many physical conditions.

Finally, there is always the option of medications. If feelings of hopelessness or despair become strong enough, visit a doctor to discuss further options.

I will post a follow up after I experiment with light therapy / dawn simulation for a few weeks. Try these tactics and let me know if you have some of your own!

SAD

Nature’s Multi-Vitamin

At this moment, our concept of what is healthy is changing.

For the last 50 years, we were told that calories should come from carbs, fat caused heart attacks, and protein caused cancer. We now know that carbs turn to sugar in the blood and can cause inflammation – the real precipitating factor in cardiovascular disease and most other health conditions.

One food that fell out of favor during the same time is liver. In this post, I’ll address concerns and aversions to one of the healthiest foods on the planet!

Let’s look at the nutritional profile of liver. A mere 1-ounce of liver (about one mouthful) meets daily recommendations for the following nutrients:

390% Vitamin B12

200% Copper

150% Vitamin A

56% Riboflavin

25% Niacin

20% Folate & Pantothenic Acid

15% Vitamin B6, Phosphorus, & Selenium

10% Iron & Zinc

5% Thiamin, Magnesium, Potassium, & Manganese

One ounce of liver provides all this, with 7.5 grams of protein, in only 50 calories!

Liver is one of the most nutrient-dense foods, along with shellfish and spices. For this reason, I eat one bite of liver everyday. To me, it’s an all-natural multi-vitamin!

Why not just take a manmade vitamin? Well, we are finding out that supplementing with unnaturally high amounts of synthetic vitamins actually increases risk of death.

And what about the argument that the liver processes the body’s toxins?

This is quite true. Whenever we take Tylenol, drink alcohol, or consume other drugs, our liver works to break these substances down. Otherwise they could accumulate in our body and kill us.

However, cows, pigs, chickens, and other animals don’t use recreational drugs or take chemicals! In fact, studies of feedlot animals (raised in horrible conditions and given various injections) showed that their livers contained no more toxins than the muscle meat we regularly consume. Properly raised animals are not exposed to toxins that require processing by the liver. Therefore, the belief that the liver contains toxins is unfounded.

Now the kidney, responsible for removing waste and filtering it out through the urine, is an organ meat I cannot comfortably consume!

The last argument against liver would be the taste. And to be honest, it does have a very strong metallic flavor. For this reason, I cover it in cayenne, turmeric, salt, pepper, garlic, and ginger. With this amount of powerful seasonings, one bite a day can be quite enjoyable.

Finally, the price is simply amazing! Most grass-fed beef liver can be found for under $3 a pound…and if you know a farmer personally, they may even give it to you for free!

So, now that we know that liver is one of the healthiest parts of an animal, doesn’t actually filter or contain toxins, how to season it properly, and how affordable it is, why not set reservations aside and try a bite?

Liver

How to lift without “Getting Bulky”

paulromasco-com

 

My personal goals involve increasing muscle mass, reducing body fat, and performing heavy barbell lifts.

However, the majority of my clients do not share these goals. Most of my clients want to lose weight, regain function, improve posture, and reverse disease.

In fact, one of the most frequent concerns I hear from those trying to get in shape is that they “don’t want to get big muscles”.

For that reason, I’m going to discuss what causes muscle growth, and how you can avoid getting bulky muscles while still leaning out and improving performance.

The technical term for developing muscle size is “muscular hypertrophy”. Hypertrophy is merely the process of tissues increasing in volume. And the form of muscular hypertrophy that results in the largest muscular gains is “sarcoplasmic hypertrophy”.

Strictly speaking, 8 to 12 repetitions with a moderate weight is the protocol for hypertrophy training. However, intensity and volume are the real deciding factors.

Intensity is accomplished by working until the muscles can no longer perform the exercise properly, known as “failure”, and moving quickly between sets.

Volume is an equation of sets, reps, and weight. This means that 2 sets of 20 repetitions

Olympics_2012_Women's_75kg_Weightlifting.jpg

Female Olympian in the 165 lb. weight class. Does SHE look bulky?

with 5 pounds will result in more growth stimulus than 3 sets of 1 repetition with 50 pounds.

I personally perform an exercise for 4 sets of 15 repetitions if I am trying to increase muscle size. Almost any load can cause significant growth when performed for 15 slow and focused repetitions.

I bring up the topic of intensity to address those that avoid lifting heavy weights because they don’t want to bulk up. The classic bodybuilder approach of 8 to 12 repetitions means that “heavy weights” (relative to the individuals strength) cannot be used.

BulkyThe weights that bodybuilders handle may look heavy but this is merely because they are very strong and have been lifting, with regular improvement, for a long time. It may look like a bench press with two 75-pound dumbbells looks heavy, but if the individual is doing it for 8 or more reps, they could handle over 100-pound dumbbells for fewer reps.

Contrarily, lifting a massively heavy weight for fewer than 5 repetitions will actually train the mind more than the muscles. Yes, the body is getting a great workout, but lifting a maximum load for 1, 2, or 3 repetitions results in more neurological adaptations than muscular growth.

So, if any rep range can stimulate muscle growth, and 8 to 12 reps with a moderately-heavy weight is the most promising to grow muscles, what can you do to avoid “bulking up”?

  • Always feel like you could do 2 to 5 more repetitions with perfect form. The moment you go to failure, and technique breaks down, you are causing muscular damage that will result in the muscle growing larger during recovery.
  • Also, take the time you need to rest between sets. Many bodybuilder programs recommend timed recoveries under 60 seconds, sometimes as low as 15 seconds. Starting your next set before the muscles are ready is a surefire way to stimulate muscle growth.
  • Finally, don’t consume excess calories! One of the main goals of exercising is to increase lean body mass, but, if you don’t want your muscles to grow considerably larger, eat at, or even below, maintenance so your body replaces fat with lean mass.

One last point worth making is regarding “toning”. The same people that say they don’t want to “grow muscles” say that they “only want to tone”. Believe it or not, tone means muscle! There is no way to make fat or skin look “toned”. The definition or tone visible on a fit persons arms, legs, or torso, is actually their muscle.

This doesn’t mean that you have to train like a bodybuilder and put on 50 pounds of muscle to looked toned… but replacing body fat with lean body mass (also known as muscle) is necessary to achieve a fit physique.

The world of fitness, nutrition, and health is filled with mixed messages, preconceived notions, and bogus ideas. But please don’t give any mind to the false claims that lifting weights and increasing strength will make you bulky!

If you work within your limits, have a program structured to your goals, and don’t eat to excess, you will achieve a healthy and proportionate figure.

And as always, if you would like professional guidance, please don’t hesitate to e-mail me at paulromasco@hotmail.com !

 

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Meal Comparison, Part 2: Lunch

This week I continue my series comparing meals from the Standard American Diet to grain-free alternatives.

Today will compare a healthy USDA-approved lunch, consisting of the following:

A sandwich made with:

2 slices whole wheat bread (enriched & fortified)

2 leaves of lettuce

2 slices turkey

2 slices ham

2 tablespoons honey-mustard dressing

1 8-ounce container of yogurt with fruit

1 medium apple

Sandwich

The grain-free meal will contain:

8 ounces salmon

1 ounce of walnuts

A salad made with:

2 cups mixed greens (spinach, romaine, lettuce, etc)

1 carrot

½ onion

Salad

Both meals total less than 650 calories and take less than 15 minutes to prepare.

Here is a macronutrient breakdown of the two meals, including a comparison of the fatty acid quality (omegas) of each.

. Total Carbs Fiber Net Carbs Protein Sat Fat Mono Fat Omega 3 Omega 6
Standard Lunch 111 8 103 23 1.8 2.2 225 2250
Grain-Free Lunch 36 12 25 50 5 9 8700 11300

The sandwich and fruit results in over 100 grams of sugar released into the bloodstream! Carbs are not inherently bad, but if this pattern is repeated regularly, for 3 meals a day, 7 days a week, diabetes and cardiovascular disease can result.

Even though “whole grains” are known for their fiber content, we see that a meal based around vegetables will provide far more fiber content. Fiber mitigates blood sugar spikes and maintains healthy gut function.

The most apparent difference is in the protein content. The sandwich and yogurt provides just over 20 grams of protein while the salmon salad weighs in at an impressive 50 grams. Imagine the benefits to cognitive functioning, physical performance, and body composition one could reap with such an adequate supply of amino acids!

Finally, we see that the omega 3-to-omega 6 ratio is about 1-to-10, risking an inflammatory state within the body. However, the salmon salad provides a much more balanced 1-to-1.3 O3-to-O6 ratio. A ratio in the range of 1-to-2 to 1-to-4 can help prevent cardiovascular disease, cancer, and certain neurological disorders.

Next is the vitamin comparison of the two meals:

. Vit A Vit C Vit D Vit E Vit K Vit B6 Vit B12 Folate
Standard Lunch 130 15 0 2 6 0.4 1.2 43
Grain-Free Lunch 34410 135 0.2 2.6 940 30 7.2 400

There’s really no need to examine any particular column. The numbers show that vegetables and healthy protein provide far more essential vitamins than refined grains, processed dairy, and “low-fat” deli meat.

Last is the mineral content of each meal:

. Calcium Iron Magnesium Potassium Sodium Zinc Copper Manganese Selenium
Standard Lunch 400 2.8 85 975 1500 3 0.1 0.7 48
Grain-Free Lunch 300 7.5 235 2825 700 3.8 1.5 2.6 108

Since the Standard Lunch includes yogurt, it will provide more calcium…but also a more acidic environment which may leech calcium from the bones.

The salmon salad still wins in every other category but we still see that grains are a decent source of minerals. As I mentioned last time however, a small serving of nuts will provide certain nutrients that aren’t found as abundantly in vegetables.

In conclusion, this side-by-side comparison of a “well-rounded, heart-healthy American lunch” and a salmon salad showcases the benefit of opting for more vegetables and healthy proteins.

Save the bread for the birds and start eating what nature provides!

5 More Health Tips

This week I think I’ll get back to my “5 Health Tips” series I started many months ago.

These are simple steps that won’t take too much time, or cost much money, but can significantly improve your health.

  • Download f.lux on all your computers. This is a program that adjusts the light on your computer according to time of day. As the sun sets, the screen will emit less white and blue light, transitioning to yellows and oranges. This will allow your body to maintain its natural production of serotonin and melatonin, contributing to healthy sleep
  • If you are seated most of the day, try to take 30 second breaks every 15 minutes to walk, stretch, or simply adjust your sitting style. Sometimes I sit on a desk chair, other times on a stability ball…sometimes I kneel, other times I stand. Prolonged sitting can cause postural issues, tight or weak muscles, and even metabolic problems.
  • Practice deep breathing while driving. This means inhaling slowly and fully, expanding all the way to the bottom of your stomach, before letting the air out in a controlled manner. I have started doing this and have experienced a few benefits: it’s very relaxing; it’s good practice for filling the diaphragm; and it makes me a more patient and calm driver.
  • Make your own condiments, sauces, and toppings at home. Most store bought condiments will contain low-quality ingredients (corn syrup, gluten, soy, etc). These foods can prevent you from losing weight, damage your health, and even affect your emotions and energy levels. Believe it or not, ketchup, salad dressing, pesto, and most sauces take less than 5 minutes to make!
  • Limit your “carb” intake to one meal a day. Unless you are a high-level athlete, exercising vigorously everyday, you aren’t burning enough carbs to justify frequent re-feedings. Excess carbs turn to sugar in the blood, causing fat-gain, inflammation, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and dozens of other health issues. The best time to consume carbs, such as potatoes or fruits, would be within 30 minutes of your workout. The second best time would be with dinner, during your last meal before bed.

The first 3 recommendations are lifestyle tips that you should be able fit into you’re your daily activities. The last 2 are nutritional suggestions that can greatly affect your health and performance.

All this tips have the potential to save you a considerable amount of money when you consider the medical costs resulting from poor health.

So give them a try and let me know how they work for you!

Coconut Oil

CoconutDue to the positive feedback on my recent post about gluten, I decided to tackle another food that is very popular right now: coconut oil.

Coconut oil is entering the mainstream at the moment because it has numerous health benefits and is one of the best oils to cook with.

Coconut oil is pressed from the flesh of a coconut. It is a solid, white substance below room temperature and turns into a clear liquid as temperatures rise over 70° F.

The consistency changes because it is over 90% saturated fat. Remember, saturated merely means that it is completely stable chemically. It won’t go rancid when stored or oxidize when cooked. These properties also hold true after consumption – it is the least likely, of all fats, to oxidize in the blood…oxidization being a precipitating factor in cardiovascular disease.

Not only is the fat content of coconut the safe saturated variety, but 66% of it is in the form of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs).

MCTs are interesting because they don’t require digestion to be converted to fuel. Therefore, it is very unlikely they will be stored as fat. They also ramp up the body’s ability to burn calories and fat. For these reasons, MCTs are often used by individuals trying to lose weight.

MCTs aren’t only a useful energy source for those looking to reduce body fat. They also produce ketones which are extremely therapeutic fuel for the brain. Ketones can protect against, and improve symptoms from, neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and epilepsy.

All fats are made up of many different acids. One such acid that makes up most of the saturated fat in coconut oil is Lauric Acid (usually only found in breast milk). Lauric acid helps increase HDL in the body, once again protecting against cardiovascular disease. Finally, lauric acid has anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and anti-viral properties, thereby protecting the body in many other ways too.

Due to the high concentration of chemically-stable fats in coconut oil, it is the most useful oil for high temperature cooking (above 300°F).

Vegetable and nut oils are predominately polyunsaturated fat, prone to oxidization when heated. Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat which is still not optimal for cooking.

Oils that are not very stable (poly and mono fats) will sacrifice their phytosterols in an attempt to prevent oxidization. Since coconut oil is almost purely saturated fat, its phytosterol content will remain even after cooking.

Life cannot exist without sterols – animals have cholesterol while plants contain phytosterols. It is believed that phytosterols improve cardiovascular health and act as antioxidants.

The oil certainly has a coconut-scent but most people find that the flavor dissipates quickly while cooking and has no effect on the taste of the final meal.

Coconut oil is often used as a moisturizer, lip balm, and in soap or other hygiene products.

Coconuts provide many other amazing foods too!

Coconut flour is an excellent alternative for sugar-laden grain flours. Coconut water is a more balanced, natural form of a sports drink. Coconut milk is a perfect substitute for animal milk. You can even buy coconut butter (pure raw coconut flesh) to spread on other foods…although it’s so rich and tasty that I’ve even eaten it straight out of the jar! And of course, you could just buy a whole coconut and make all these products yourself.

Now that we know the value of such a food, it’s time to throw out the rancid vegetable oils, save olive oil for salads, and start using coconut oil for your cooking endeavors!

Gluten

At this moment, there appears to be a “gluten-free” craze or fad.

By now, you all know that I recommend a gluten-free lifestyle. But, I advocate learning the reasons behind elimination first.

Imagine if, in 1949, when doctors were recommending cigarettes, that I came out of nowhere and just said “stop doing what your doctor tells you – it’s bad for you!”

Instead of just hoping that people will go against “conventional wisdom” to improve their health, I’d rather provide some facts about gluten.

First, let’s look at the actual plant that has the most gluten – wheat. The plant in the bottom of the picture is wild-grown wheat, while the top plant is commercially grown wheat.
Wheat
This picture is slightly deceiving because the “ancient einkorn wheat” is actually a modern day variation of wheat grown in the wild. Originally, the stem would continue even further and there would be far less seeds. But, even in this picture, you can see that the output (the size and amount of protective “hairs”) of the plant has changed.

While scientists tinkered with the genetics of the plant to increase profits, they also increased the protein content immensely. This was considered an added benefit but, unfortunately, no testing was done on human tolerance.

As acetaminophen (Tylonel) was developed, it had to be researched mechanistically, tested on animals, and finally on humans, before each generation of the product could be sold in stores. This was never done with wheat.

Next, let’s consider the role wheat played historically. For the last 10,000 years, grains helped humans develop villages, cities, and countries, allowing us to leave behind 2.6 million years of hunting and gathering.

Imagine life as a hunter-gatherer – traveling around in groups, moving your “home”, and collecting food.

Would it make sense to spend hours every day picking tiny seeds off a plant, that would then have to be soaked, sprouted, and ground to make one thin cracker? Or would it make sense to throw a spear into a herd of antelope and provide enough food for weeks?

Would you rather search for days to find a few grasses of wheat? Or would time be better spent picking berries and plucking leaves (requiring no preparation) as you travel?

Wheat, and other grains and seeds, would be stored for a time of famine…when a hunt was unsuccessful or in winter when plants were scarce.

Now we know the role wheat played historically and how the plant changed through recent genetic hybridization. But, what about the actual affects gluten has on humans?

It is predicted that 1% of the world population has celiac disease, an overt allergy to gluten, while about 10% report having “non-celiac gluten sensitivity”.

Gluten sensitivity can result in over 250 symptoms, including joint pain, dry skin, or indigestion.

There is no test for “gluten sensitivity”, as there is with celiac disease. The only way to discover sensitivity is to completely remove gluten from the diet and reintroduce after a few months. Finally, one microgram of gluten can change the gut chemistry for up to 6 months – therefore, an accidental exposure, or short-term elimination, may provide invalid results.

I don’t want to bore you by exploring every issue involved with gluten, so I’ll just mention the two most compelling facts:

Gliadin, one of two proteins that make up gluten, breaks down to polypeptides. These are small enough to travel through the gut lining, into the blood, and cross the blood-brain barrier. At this point, they bind to opiate-receptor sites, producing euphoria, similar to a tiny dose of morphine or heroin. Studies show that gluten stimulates appetite so much, through the reward/pleasure centers of the brain, that individuals eating gluten consume an extra 400 calories a day.

Finally, transglutaminase is the enzyme in that breaks down gluten. The more gluten one eats, the more transglutaminase their body must produce. The issue here is that transglutaminase has the ability to affect every cell in the body. This is one reason gluten sensitivity can manifest in hundreds of different symptoms. The literature shows that high levels of transglutaminase are present in individuals with neurological diseases such as Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia.

I could continue but I don’t want to make this post too dry or sound like I’m trying to make gluten into some boogey-man.

The takeaway points are:

We have genetically-altered the wheat plant to contain far more gluten than it should.

Humans are not meant to consume as much gluten as we have in the last 50 years.

Gluten has the potential to affect nearly every function within the body.

Considering these facts, it is no surprise that there is a “gluten-free” craze at this moment. As more people eliminate gluten from their diets, they discover that it was the cause of many different health issues, ranging from fat-gain to Type II diabetes to anxiety.

And with that, you know the risks of over-consuming gluten, and the benefits of opting for more nutritional foods.

The science is out there – why not give it a try and see if removing gluten from your diet for a few months improves your life in any way? What will you have to lose (besides a few pizza nights or conveniently packaged snack bars)?