When to eat?

Dear Dr. Mo: I’ve put my self on a weight loss program by combining advice and ideas from your posts. My largest meal has always been lunch and I figured to move it earlier in the day. I would like to know if timing of this meal would make any difference in my diet? Does a timing affect weight loss outcome?

When we eat is just as important

When we eat is just as important

Dear reader: Your hunch that eating your largest meal – lunch – earlier in the day would be better for your weight loss efforts is very accurate.
Data from a relatively recently published large-scale prospective study on the subject proves this to be the case.

The study had followed 400 overweight adults for 20 weeks and demonstrated that timing of meals predicted weight loss effectiveness; the results were published on January 29, 2013 in the International Journal of Obesity. Continue reading

What is Glycemic Index and how to use it to eat healthy?

Dear Dr. Mo: I am trying to lose some weight and improve my diet. Is there a way to shop around for good foods that will load me with less sugar and help me eat healthier?

Foods with high GI will shoot your sugar through the roof

Foods with high GI will shoot your sugar through the roof

Dear reader: The total amount of carbohydrates we consume (with a meal or with a snack) mostly determines what happens to our blood sugar levels right after we eat. But, it’s not just the absolute amount of carbs that’s important – the food itself also plays a big part. So, for example, a serving of white bread or white rice has almost the same effect as eating pure table sugar— it produces a quick, high spike in blood sugar. On the other hand though, a serving of something like zucchini, beans or squash has a slower, smaller effect.

Strategically picking good sources of carbs can help us control our blood sugar and in most cases, our weight although I don’t want this to sound too simple. The levels of our activity, age, sex, overall health and metabolism and genetics are all important parts of the equation.

Okay so let me give you one good way we can choose our foods: we can use the glycemic index (GI) to know how much any given food boosts blood sugar.

The glycemic index gives us the effect a certain amount of specific food would have on blood sugar as compared with the same amount of pure glucose. This means that a food with a glycemic index of say 20 boosts blood sugar only 20% as much as pure glucose would. One with a GI of over 90 acts almost like pure glucose.

Glycemic index is easy to use, just choose foods with a low(er) index rather than higher whenever you can. Here’s the breakdown: Continue reading

Health benefits of Melons

Dear Dr. Mo: I loved your posts on Squash and I have a question about Melons – I love Melons and I was wondering about possible health benefits I can incur from that fruit?

Refreshing and healthy!

Refreshing and healthy!

Dear reader: Melons are related to Squash and comparable to it in their health benefits. Let me list a few important ones:

Blood pressure control

Eating melons can help control blood pressure as they contain potassium and potassium lessens the effects sodium has in elevating blood pressure; cutting back on dietary salt is also important in maintaining a healthy blood pressure level.

Vitamins

Melon is a fine source of vitamin B6 which helps maintain our body’s metabolism and some recent data shows that this vitamin reduces inflammation, oxidative stress and helps regulate metabolic disturbances including obesity and diabetes.

Just like carrots for example, melons too owe their bright colour to vitamin A — one cup has about 40 percent of our daily needs. Vitamin A is important for vision and bone growth.

Another vitamin found in plentiful supply in Melons is vitamin C and this one is crucial for collagen formation to maintain your cartilage, bones, gums, skin etc. Vitamin C won’t do us much good when we catch a cold, just so you know, that’s a (pharmaceutical) myth. Continue reading

How “whole” are whole grains and are they always healthy?

Dear readers: Whenever I spot a link between food industry professionals and scientists, I get a queazy feeling in my stomach as their intention is almost by definition driven by profits and never by our health and well being.

Look twice

Look twice

In the 1999’s definition of “whole grain” by the American Association of Cereal Chemists (AACC) International, which is exactly that ominous kind of mixture of food industry professionals and scientists, “whole grain” can be any mixture of components of an intact grain (the bran, endosperm and germ) but the grains are allowed to be (and usually are), processed so that the parts are separated and ground before being put into foods.

To clear things up a bit – the “whole grain” is an INTACT grain – a fiber-rich coating of bran surrounding a starchy endosperm and a reproductive kernel called the germ. The fiber content is what’s synonymous with good health, good digestion, lower cholesterol, heart health etc.

When you separate these components and process them, the contents of healthy fiber and nutrients drop significantly.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration adopted (to no wonder) the AACC definition in 2006, allowing the food industry to push out their products marketed as “whole grain” that contain very little fiber and lots of sugar.

As reported by the Scientific American’s text Whole Grain Foods Not Always Healthful from July 2013:

“An individual would have to eat 10 bowls of Multi-grain Cheerios, 16 slices of whole-wheat bread, or nine cups of brown rice to get the fiber recommended for an American adult for one day. “There’s nothing wrong with eating brown rice, but you can’t expect health benefits if you’re going to be eating brown rice as your source of whole grains,” David Klurfeld the national program leader for human nutrition in the Agricultural Research Service at the U.S. Department of  Agriculture.”

When the whole grains are being processed (usually by grinding or flaking) to make them tastier and longer lasting, this also degrades their natural antioxidant content and markedly reduces the amount of fiber – remember, those are the two ingredients that make whole grains good for the heart and over-all health.

To make matters worse, the AACC International recently went on to propose a modification of its definition of “whole grain”, which is bad as it is, to allow for this nutrient loss during processing. Continue reading

Beans – fiber and protein rich powerhouse of health

Beans, Beans, glorious Beans

Beans, Beans, glorious Beans

Dear Dr. Mo: Are beans really any good to eat? All I know is that they give me gas and cramps, but I’ve heard they might be really healthy so, are they?

Dear reader: Beans are one of the fiber-richest foods out there, especially when it comes to cholesterol lowering soluble fiber. Eating a cup beans, any beans really, a day can lower your total cholesterol levels by as much as 10% and that’s significant.

Soluble fiber dissolves in water and binds cholesterol preventing its re-absorption in the body.

In fact, beans are so nutritious and healthy that the latest dietary guidelines recommend a triple of our current suggested intake, from 1 to 3 cups per week, and like I told you, a cup a day would be the best way to go.

Beans are a good meat protein substitute but they are even more than just a simple substitute. Beans have similar calorie count as meat and their water and fiber content will make you feel fuller for longer, which helps in weight management and weight loss and will allow you to cut total daily calories in your diet without starving yourself or skipping any meals. Meat however, contains zero fiber!

How much fiber?

One cup of cooked beans contains about 12 grams of fiber, which is almost half the recommended dose of 25 grams (women) to 35 grams (men) on average.  Continue reading

8 great health benefits of Green Tea

What a healthy tea!

What a healthy tea!

Dear Dr. Mo: What are the true health benefits of green tea, are these benefits real and should I start drinking it? 

Dear reader: Green tea is one of those foods that potentially has enormous health benefits but for most of them, more research is needed to really ascertain the extent of it for human health outside the lab. For starters, let me mention the 8 great health benefits of green tea that scientists are seriously looking into and I also suggest you read my earlier post which goes into more depth on green tea, its functions and proper preparation.

1. Cholesterol regulation

There’s a group of chemicals in green tea called catechins responsible for a lot of claimed benefits and researchers believe these catechins help prevent the absorption of cholesterol all together but at the same time they increase the absorption of high-density HDL cholesterol, which is the good one.

2. Weight management

Green tea speeds up digestion and slows down fat absorption while increasing the energy expenditure so these properties can help you lose weight when consumed as part of a healthy diet.

3. Good for the bones

Green tea is said to improve bone mineral density thus lowering your fracture risk – this is because green tea contains a group of chemicals that stimulates the formation of bone and helps slow their breakdown although more research is needed to corroborate this claim outside the lab.

4. Oral health booster

Catechins again – think about the green tea as a natural mouth wash, like Listerine, only better. Drinking green tea regularly can contribute to a healthier mouth because catechins can help kill bacteria in your mouth.

5. Keeps some cancers at bay

Studies show that green tea benefits include protection against certain cancers, not all of them but the fact is that we just don’t know yet about the full potential of green tea’s compounds. What we do know is that the data are the most substantial for bladder, ovarian and esophageal cancers. It mostly does this by starving cancer cells to death.

6. Helps prevent Type 2 Diabetes

And not only that but it helps prevent its prelude – the Metabolic syndrome a.k.a. the Syndrome X. Studies show that one cup a day isn’t going to cut it – you need up to 6 or more every day to lower your risks for these ailments – but, why not, it’s good for you so give it a go. Continue reading

Artificial sweeteners – what are they, are there risks and what are the possible benefits?

Dear Dr. Mo: What exactly are the artificial sweeteners and what are their pros and cons? 

Jellies often contain artificial sweeteners

Jellies often contain artificial sweeteners

Dear reader: Artificial sweeteners are sugar substitutes, usually synthetic , but may also come from naturally occurring substances like herbs or sugar itself (like sucralose, which is derived from sugar).

These sweeteners are many times sweeter than table sugar and this is why they are intense sweeteners. Continue reading

Why is gluten-free a risky way of eating?

Dear Dr. Mo: Gluten-free food is gaining in popularity and suddenly a lot of people think gluten is bad for health – is that true and should I consider a gluten-free diet?

Dear reader: Actually no, going gluten-free for no particular reason can be a very risky business.

This is NOT a gluten-free bread - it is a multi grain

This is NOT a gluten-free bread – it is a multi grain

Why gluten-free diets can be bad for you?

Gluten-free diets exclude many whole grains and are lower in fiber content while higher in simple carbohydrate content.  Continue reading

Milk – what’s good about it, what’s not and the alternatives

Dear Dr. Mo: Is it true that most people are to extent lactose intolerant? Does dairy long term slows ones’ metabolism or truly have a power to boost it? Would you recommend substitutes for dairy for those people with lactose intolerance?

Milk's OK

Milk’s OK

Dear reader: I’ve been drinking milk my whole life – I grew up on it, as was the case with many other kids and as it is the case today. Kids need milk to grow, that’s for sure.

Adults? As with most things, there are benefits and there are risks.

So what’s good in milk and other dairy?

It’s a good and relatively inexpensive source of protein, calcium and vitamin D. Vitamin D does not really naturally occur in milk but in most countries, milk is fortified with it so you find it there. Continue reading

Alcohol – that social lubricant

Dear Dr. Mo: I want to know some basic facts about alcohol and what it does to me when I drink. Is there a safe amount that’s actually good for health?

Don’t drink and drive!

Dear reader: Sometimes you might hear from a doctor that moderate alcohol consumption is good for health.

The peril lies in the word “moderate” for it is arbitrary; it is not the same for everyone and one could easily slip from moderation to amounts that are not at all useful to health. We could certainly argue if alcohol is useful in any amount because while it may be beneficial to one part of the body, it is damaging to another.

We don’t really need alcohol as far as maintaining our health is concerned so if you’ve never drank, don’t start as risks outweigh potential benefits.

Diabetes and weight – what is the link?

Dear Dr. Mo: What is the link between being overweight and developing Type 2 diabetes? Can diabetes be prevented or cured somehow?

Dear reader: First of all it is worth pointing out that diabetes is a chronic condition. For most types (except gestational type) this chronicity means that once it occurs, it stays for life – this is not a disease we can effectively cure with our present knowledge but we can quite successfully manage it.

Before I go into your question, let me first explain the diabetes landscape and basic mechanisms behind it as Type 2 is not the only game in town.

Diabetes occurs either when the pancreas no longer produces enough insulin or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar.
The danger of diabetes lies in a condition called Hyperglycaemia – raised blood sugar level – which is a common result of uncontrolled/undiagnosed diabetes, which over time causes serious damage to the body, especially to blood vessels and nerves.

Food choices affect our health

Diabetes has its types and these differ in both the ways they start and the ways in which we manage them.

Type 1 Diabetes

This type had previously been known as insulin-dependent, juvenile or childhood-onset diabetes. Here, our pancreas gland becomes deficient in insulin production and there is simply no longer enough of it to properly regulate our blood sugar levels. Management requires daily administration of insulin and this type cannot be prevented with our current understanding as the cause is not known although we do think it is due to the self-inflicting damage to pancreas (process called “auto immune response”). Continue reading

Sleep, health and weight loss

Dear Dr. Mo: I am looking into some weight loss programs and I am trying to work out my strategy to come back to my healthy weight. My work sometimes requires giving up on sleep and I tend to be too tired too often. Should I also consider better sleep as part of my weight loss strategy?

Dear reader: What an insightful question! Many of the dieting programs focus heavily on dietary habits and the types of foods we eat, when we eat them and how much. This is rightly so because to attain and maintain a healthy weight, we require a careful selection of healthful foods and a balanced way to eat them. We should also be mindful of our calorie total– don’t go below 1200 calories a day to avoid driving your body into starvation mode.

Sleep is a big part of your healthy weight

Dieting programs also focus on exercise, again rightly so because you need a way to burn through a few hundred calories a day in order to lose about 500 grams a week – which is the pace I’d recommend.  If you cut out 500 calories a day, every day, you’ll be losing about 500 grams of weight a week.

What most dieting programs don’t talk about, and I think they should, is a major component of our health – sleep.

If we don’t sleep well and don’t get enough of it, our health suffers and it becomes increasingly difficult to curb the appetite and control our weight. Being overweight deteriorates our health in both the short and the long run.

Disrupted sleep patterns disrupt the circadian rhythm and increase sleep deprivation, which in turn increases the hunger hormone ghrelin.
There are two of these hormones that regulate our appetite and feelings of hunger and fullness – leptin and ghrelin – and both are directly affected by how much sleep time we give ourselves. Continue reading

What is Syndrome X?

Dear Dr. Mo: What is the Syndrome X? I have heard I may be having it – what to do if that’s so?

Dear reader: Syndrome X, more commonly known as the metabolic syndrome and also known as the insulin resistance syndrome is characterized by a clustering of several risk factors for cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.

This syndrome is among the very common ones in the modern times mostly due to our changed dietary and activity habits and yet, many people have never heard of it and many people (especially people over 50) have it – and, many live their lives without knowing it.

Metabolic syndrome is silent but dangerous

This syndrome presents a serious threat to health.

As I explained, it is a congregation of high-risk factors and if you have this syndrome, you have a much higher risk of a heart attack or stroke as well as of developing diabetes, liver and kidney disease.There’s also evidence that older adults with this syndrome could be more likely to have problems with their memory.

These risk factors most commonly include:

  • Excess intra-abdominal fat (belly fat – the apple shape). This excess is present if a waist size is 101.5 cm (40 inches) or more for men or 90 cm (35 inches) or more for women;
  • Insulin resistance (High fasting blood sugar measure);

And one or more of the following:

  • Elevated triglyceride levels in the blood;
  • Decreased levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL – the “good” fat or good cholesterol)
  • High blood pressure (Hypertension)

So, you have a metabolic syndrome (the syndrome X) if you have three or more of the above-listed risk factors.
Continue reading

Why are sodas unhealthy?

Dear Dr. Mo: I drink soda every day and I love its sweet taste. I keep hearing this is bad for my health. If that’s true, why is that so? 

Dear reader: Yesterday I was out riding my bicycle with several hundred other cyclists of all ages to mark the beginning of the European Mobility Week. There were people of all kinds of fitness levels and from different parts of the world. There were even entire families with children on bikes big and small and we all took a nice ride down the streets of the city while the traffic was closed just for us. Perfect.

Sodas are sweet – too sweet for health

What a celebration of health and exercise, I thought to myself.

The ride was over in about 45 minutes as we had arrived to our destination in one of the city’s big parks outside the central area. What happened next inspired me to write today’s post and answer your question.

Organizers were thoughtful enough to prepare a supply of drinks to deliver for free to all the thirsty cyclists. There were several types of sodas available and bottles of water.
90% of people took sodas and very few opted for water. Children, adults, seniors.. without exception.

Drinking 500 ml of soda after 45 minutes of nice bike ride entirely defeats the health-related purpose of biking and erases the potential health benefits one may have incurred on a bicycle. Continue reading