5 Cholesterol lowering foods – Infographic

FullSizeRenderDear Dr. Mo: What are some of the foods that could help lower my cholesterol?

Dear reader: Eating a healthy diet in general can be challenging and tailoring it to a specific health need only adds to that challenge. Before embarking on any significant change in your diet, I suggest you first speak with your doctor who could give you useful pointers, link you with a specialist and follow up on your progress.

 

To get you started, I’ve written about such foods here

To answer your question, I’ve made this useful infographic to serve as a quick reference point to what’s out there Continue reading

Why it’s okay to have some chocolate

Dear Dr. Mo: I’d like to know if there are any health benefits we can derive from eating chocolate?

chocolateDear reader: Having a sweet tooth myself, I very much understand your concern and in the context of health, I am happy to say – Yes!

I have already written in some detail about health benefits of chocolate so be sure to check it out.

Let me recap it here and add some fresh findings to support it.

Just recently, certain compounds in chocolate, called cocoa flavanols, have been linked with improved cognitive abilities, especially in aging individuals. It appears that regular flavanols consumption can turn a tide on some age-related thinking dysfunctions.

This conclusion comes out of a recent Italian study, published online in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Continue reading

Marijuana, weight gain and other misfortunes

Dear Dr. Mo: I’m worried that smoking marijuana might make me gain weight – is it true that this could happen?

Dear reader: Consuming marijuana classically produces symptoms of increased appetite (so called the munchies) and in principle, it could lead to weight gain in otherwise healthy individuals. This, in addition to its anti-nausea effect (anti-emetic) is the reason marijuana is sometimes prescribed to cancer patients to alleviate some of their symptoms (from both the illness and its therapy).

Get high and fat

Get high and fat

It also often causes a dry mouth, which is usually noted by users and I should say that the munchies really should be the least of your concerns when smoking marijuana.
Let me explain.

I’ve heard people claim otherwise but the fact is that intoxication with marijuana does significantly impair motor function and consequently seriously interferes with driving ability – being high or being drunk makes almost no difference.
It can also cause a heart to race (tachycardia) and induce serious discomfort and even a panic attack.

Heavy marijuana use over long time is strongly linked to Amotivational syndrome, which is characterized by apathy and boredom – if this sounds too esoteric, let me put it into a real clinical scenario: Continue reading

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

Here’s Why You’re Really Gaining Weight

Dear Dr. Mo: Could obesity be contagious?

Dear reader: Obesity is of course not infectious per se but it’s well known to be ‘socially contagious’ and in that sense your question is spot on – eating habits of eating companions or groups exert significant influence on us; and we are mostly unaware of this fact.

Social contagion

Social contagion

One is more likely to be overweight if one has a lot of friends who are overweight and a very good way to gain weight is to have lunches or dinners with other people, especially if they are overweight.

On average, if you grab a meal with a friend, you will eat about 35% more than what you would eat if you were eating alone.

If you are eating in a group of 4, you will eat about 75% more and in groups of 7 or more people, you will probably eat 96% more! Continue reading

Stop With the Gluten-Free Already!

Dear Dr. Mo: Is gluten-free food generally a healthier option?

Dear reader: The trouble with gluten-free products is that they tend to have a health aura around them, which sometimes blinds people from seeing what they’re really eating.

There is nothing necessarily healthier about gluten-free bread or cookies or pasta or any other food you can think of. Often, if one took a closer look at the label, the product would likely be lower in protein and fiber than a non gluten-free alternative.  The catch is that the calorie counts remain the same or similar but because we may think that being gluten-free automatically means healthier food, we may eat more of it.

Many people who eat gluten-free foods say they think they’re healthier and also many believe it will help them lose weight but be cautious of this trap as you may actually be gaining weight by eating more and by eating foods with more fat, more sugar, less protein etc.

Continue reading

Zinc for the Common Cold – Does It Work?

Get your Zinc from food

Get your Zinc from food

Dear Dr. Mo: Is Zinc helpful in treating the common cold? Should I use it?

Dear reader: When we catch the infamous cold (acute upper respiratory tract infection), sometimes the symptoms may be severe enough that we reach out to anything that has even a hint of a promise of a quick cure.

 

The truth is, there’s no effective cure other than our own immune system and yet, many supplements are out on the market claiming to boost the immune response and help us fight off the virus.

Evidence is strong against any substantial effectiveness of any of these supplements.

Healthy diet and exercise remain the only sure fire ways to overcome the common cold – yes, even while you’re sick, if you can, you should moderately exercise (or at least stay active) and not rest for too long – this will speed up the recovery.

Zinc time and again emerges as one of the supplements suggested to help us fight the common cold but, does it work? 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

5 health benefits of Onions – poor breath great health

Dear Dr. Mo: What about onions and health – I avoid them because they give me bad breath but I actually love onions. Should I eat them anyways?

Great combination

Great combination

Dear reader: With their unique combination of flavonoids and sulfur-containing nutrients, the allium vegetables—such as onions—belong in a healthy diet on a regular basis.

The total polyphenol content (polyphenol Quercetin) of onion is higher than its fellow allium vegetables, garlic and leeks and other polyphenol rich plants like tomatoes, carrots, and red bell pepper. Polyphenols are natural antioxidants linked to prevention of cardiovascular diseases (by primarily helping us regulate the cholesterol levels and reducing oxidative stresses).

When onions are simmered in a soup, their Quercetin is not destroyed. It simply leaks out into the water. By simmering at low-heat, you can preserve the health benefits of onion that are associated with Quercetin.

Here are 5 quick health benefits we derive from eating onions on regular basis:

1. Onions are high in vitamin C, dietary fiber, vitamin B6, folate and manganese;

2. They help relieve symptoms such as coughs, congestion, lung tightness in asthma and respiratory infections;

3. Sulfur-containing nutrients in onions have been linked to lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels;

4. Onions contain natural anti-clotting agents with fibrinolytic activity and platelet-clumping suppression ability. The anti-clotting effect of onions closely correlates with their sulfur content and this property is again beneficial for preventing complications in cardiovascular diseases for example; Continue reading

The powerful vitamin A and what happens in vitamin deficiency

Dear Dr. Mo: You’ve mentioned that Squash is rich in vitamin A but cautioned not to take too much of it. How can vitamins hurt us? Specifically, why is vitamin A important and how can it be harmful? What’s happening in vitamins deficiency?

Squash and pumpkins are awesome sources of vitamin A

Squash and pumpkins are awesome sources of vitamin A

Dear reader: Vitamin A has many vital functions and people associate it with good vision and this is certainly true. This vitamin along with vitamins D,E and K is not water soluble, which means they are not easily removed from our body and can hang on for a long time in our fat tissue, being fat-soluble. That’s why too much of it will stick around and cause problems. Apart from good vision, here are a few other equally significant roles of vitamin A in normal, deficient and excess situation:

1. It is a cofactor for a hormone called PTH (Parathyroid hormone) and this means that without it the hormone cannot function properly. PTH is necessary for Calcium balance in our body – this means that PTH controls the levels of Calcium in our blood; it affects the strength and health of our bones, the absorption of Calcium from our gut etc. Except for bone health, Calcium is also very important in cellular functioning and without it (or with too much of it) many of our vital processes stop or become excessive (for example, muscle contractions including heart, secretion of hormones like for instance insulin etc..).
Contrary to deficiency, vitamin A excess will cause PTH to work too much and increase levels of Calcium at the expense of our bones; too much Calcium will cause problems with muscle contractions known as tetanic contractions, our heart will not beat properly, kidneys may develop stones, Calcium will leak out into urine and the entire system will be thrown off balance.

2. It’s necessary for production of the fluid that cushions and maintains our brain and spinal cord called Cerebro-Spinal Fluid (CSF) – in vitamin A deficiency the CSF production is low but the body doesn’t know it; on the flip side of it, if vitamin A is in excess, too much CSF will cause dangerous increase in pressure in the skull which manifests itself with strong headaches and optic nerve swelling and can lead if left untreated to blindness and/or even death via something called brain herniation.

3. It’s crucial in maturation of cells such as the ones in hair, skin and eyes or linings of our organs like the lungs or intestines. So if for example a child is recovering from Measles, a doctor may give some vitamin A to speed up the regeneration of the child’s worn away cells in the lungs. We also give vitamin A to transform one exceptionally lethal type of Leukemia called PML (Pro-Myeloblastic Leukemia) into one less lethal called AML to help patients live longer with the disease. Vitamin A is used in Dermatology to manage some diseases etc. 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

Should you wash poultry and other meats before cooking?

Dear Dr. Mo: My question is simple and yet kind of age old – should I wash poultry (and other meats for that matter) before cooking? I’d traditionally say yes, but when I think of it, I’m not so sure.

No need to wash it but handle it with care

No need to wash it but handle it with care

Dear reader: Contrary to popular belief, my answer has to be NO – you should not wash or rinse any raw meat prior to cooking. This is not just a matter of preference – it is really ill-advised.

Let me quickly explain why:

Washing raw meat and rinsing its juices only splashes any existing bacteria on that piece of meat all over your kitchen sink, utensils and nearby surfaces – this is termed “cross-contamination” and does very little to protect your health – quite on the contrary, this cross-contamination can easily cause a foodborne illness.
In addition, there are some bacteria so tightly attached to the meat that you would not remove them no matter how long or vigorously you washed it.

So how to be safe then? 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

If you don’t have your health, everything is ruined

Dear readers: In a recent interview for Esquire, titled “What I’ve Learned”, Woody Allen says an interesting and important thing he’d learned from his dad: “My dad didn’t even teach me how to shave — I learned that from a cabdriver. But the biggest lesson he imparted is that if you don’t have your health, you have nothing. No matter how great things are going for you, if you have a toothache, if you have a sore throat, if you’re nauseated, or, God forbid, you have some serious thing wrong with you — everything is ruined..

Image credit: www.kalisthenixfitnessblog.com

Image credit: www.kalisthenixfitnessblog.com

Inspired by Mr. Allen’s lesson from his father, and in relation to my recent post in which I wrote about some cool health benefits of Butternut Squash that even made it to the list of those healthful foods that can heal your tired legs, I’ve decided to share with you one simple recipe for a quick, healthy and easy way to make a very tasty Squash.

Here’s how to do it: Continue reading