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

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

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

Tired legs? Try these 5 dietary tweaks to help your tired legs

Legs could be windows into health - if they're tired, you need a recharge

Legs could be windows into health – if they’re tired, you need a recharge

Dear Dr. Mo: My legs feel tired relatively often and I’d like to know if there is something I can do about it? Should I be worried?

Dear reader: The feeling of tiredness in legs is a relatively common complaint and the reasons for this feeling could be different. If the feeling is more than just tiredness and it extends into pain and cramps, swelling, numbness and other more severe symptoms, you should see your doctor immediately as these could signal a more serious underlying condition.

That said, check out my earlier post on the Tired legs in the morning and the possible causes as well as several things you can do about it.

Use a healthy diet in your favour to get rid of tiredness in your legs and in some instances even pain (but like I said, for pain, always see your doctor first and discuss your options, including your diet).

Include foods that are rich in calcium, fiber, proteins and vitamin E in your diet as well as foods that will clean up your blood vessels  and regulate your blood pressure. These ingredients will maintain your health and specifically improve the strength and fitness of your legs.

What exactly do I mean? Here are 5 important points that you can use in your diet to improve the health of your legs and reduce the feeling of tiredness:

1. Try these 4 foods to keep you blood vessels clean from cholesterol plaques – healthy blood vessels also mean good blood supply to your legs, and well fed legs are fit and recover quickly from walking, running, jumping or just simply standing.

2. For blood pressure regulation try Beets, which can help to regulate mild hypertension (high normal and even stage 1)

3. Eat weekly some Butternut Squash and spinach for a healthy dose of fiber, vitamins A, E, C and B

And fiber is a necessity in any healthy diet, for good digestion and a healthy weight.  Continue reading

6 amazing health benefits of Butternut Squash

"The apple of Gods" according to American natives

“The apple of Gods” according to American natives

Dear readers: I’d like to share with you 6 amazing health benefits of Butternut Squash, my latest discovery on my quest for delicious healthy foods. It didn’t seem appealing or eye catching and I remember my grandpa used to dry it up to make a ladle out of it but I’ve never tried it until recently. So, here is my list:

Benefit 1 – Vitamin A and Beta carotene:

Squash is literally loaded with vitamin A – 1 cup of cooked squash has over 400% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) – Vitamin A is important for our vision, bone health, cell function, reproduction and the immune system. ~One note here: Vitamin A is not water soluble, which means that its excess it is not easily removed from our body so do not overindulge in this treat – perhaps not more than once a week.

The squash’s orange color means it is high in beta carotene, an antioxidant relevant for vision health and possible reduction of breast cancer risk.

Benefit 2 – Fiber:

Squash is a very good source of fiber – one cup of cooked or baked squash has almost 7 g of fiber! Fiber is important for healthy digestion, cholesterol regulation and weight management.

Benefit 3 – Potassium:

It has more potassium than a banana with over 550 mg and potassium is important for the heart health and it participates in fluid and mineral regulation. Continue reading

Breakfast for champions

How you start your day matters most

How you start your day matters most

Dear readers: I’ve written about the importance of our first meal in the morning – whether you are on a special diet or just want to eat healthy, never skip this morning meal!

In my recent posts on Avocados and Eggs, I’ve discussed their powerful health benefits. In combination, they can truly constitute a breakfast to power you up for the day.
This is exactly what I’ve had this morning as you can see in the photo.

The bread in the picture is 12 grain and getting your morning dose of fiber is one of the things that will set the tone in your digestive system for a smooth and efficient function, a foundation of a healthy day. Continue reading

5 easy ways to improve digestion

Dear Dr. Mo: My digestion has not been so good lately. What are some natural ways to try and improve it?

Indigestion could be corrected with a healthy diet

Indigestion could be corrected with a healthy diet

Dear reader: When digestion is not working properly, our entire health my become affected and sometimes indigestion could signal an underlying issue that needs to be investigated by a physician. But, before you go to your doctor, here are 5 easy ways to try and improve your digestion:

1. Fluids

First and foremost, the most essential and simplest thing we can do is stay well hydrated throughout the day. Water is used to create digestive juices, it dissolves soluble fiber and enables it to do its magic, it helps solid food move smoother and get digested quicker and it flushes out unwanted digestion products. Just be careful with the choice of fluids if that’s not water. Pop is not healthy at all and can trigger heartburn.

Too much coffee (I’d say 5 and more cups) becomes a powerful diuretic, which dehydrates you.

2. Beans

Rich in soluble fiber (1 serving contains 12 to 19 grams of it) and low in fat, this food will help your digestion even if at first it may seem to give you more gas and cramps – after some relatively short time, your digestion will adapt and this side effect should decrease and go away. Our daily dose of fiber should be 25 – 35 grams and beans are one great way to get much of that dose.

3. Yogourt

This food contains important probiotics that help digestion – how do they do it? Probiotics are friendly bacteria that naturally augment and support the functioning of our digestive system, keep bad bacteria at bay and interact with other functions in our body like the immune system and even our brain.

Probiotics can help ease the post-antibiotic diarrhea, and even some very serious conditions like Chron’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome and a very serious variant of colitis, caused by the Clostridium difficile bacteria. 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

Your lifestyle can protect your brain – small lifestyle changes largely reduce stroke risk

Image Credit: American Heart Association

Image Credit: American Heart Association

Dear Dr. Mo: Someone I know has just had a stroke. What can I do to reduce my risks of stroke? I’m middle aged and generally in good health.

Dear reader: What we have long suspected, the latest study published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke confirms: By making small changes in our lifestyle, we could reduce our risk of having a stroke by up to 48%, depending on our general health status – the better our overall health, the larger the reduction in stroke risk!

Researchers in the study assessed stroke risk by using the American Heart Association’s  Life’s Simple 7 health factors: 

  1. Be active
  2. Control cholesterol
  3. Eat a healthy diet
  4. Manage blood pressure
  5. Maintain a healthy weight
  6. Control blood sugar and
  7. Don’t smoke

Continue reading

The Egg myth debunked – eggs won’t kill you after all

Eggs are fine and in fact, very good for you

Eggs are fine and in fact, very good for you

Dear Dr. Mo: Should I or shouldn’t I eat eggs and are they healthy in any way? People keep saying eggs are full of cholesterol and should be avoided but, is this true?

Dear reader: Contrary to a wide-spread belief (or myth), eggs are very healthy food and a healthy individual can and should eat them on a regular basis. If a person loves eggs vey much and eats too many of them, this can increase cholesterol levels and associated risks for heart disease but if you stick to 4 whole eggs or fewer a week, evidence suggest that any risks you may have will not increase.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), which had revised its dietary guidelines back in 2000 to “allow” healthy adults to consume eggs once again, you may eat one egg every day – so 7 eggs a week, which is even more than I’d recommend. However, the AHA still advises a total daily cholesterol limit to stay at 300 mg. One average egg contains anywhere from 180 to 220 mg of cholesterol so you’ll have to take that into account and read the food labels carefully to balance your daily cholesterol intake. This advice goes for everyone age 2 and older. Continue reading