5 very good reasons to love Zucchini

Green powerhouse

Green powerhouse

Dear Dr. Mo: My wife loves zucchini. I am not a big fan but she insists that zucchinis are healthy without stating any specific health benefit. Are zucchini really that healthy? 

Dear reader: Zucchini are indeed very good for your health. They help you control and manage your weight and its vitamins and minerals boost your immune system, health of your heart, skin, eyes and lungs.

One cup of boiled zucchini (according to the USDA), contains as little as 27 calories but it also has 2 g of fiber, which is pretty good!

Here are 5 very specific health benefits and good reasons to have zucchini in your diet (give this list to your wife so that she can have some concrete facts the next time she intuitively advocates for this healthy veggie): Continue reading

The great health benefits of spinach and why Popeye the Sailor was wrong

Popeye was wrong, well, sort of..

Popeye was wrong, well, sort of..

Dear readers: Spinach is one of those foods we should always have in mind when we’re planning a healthy meal – it’s just that good! In fact it is one of the healthiest leafy greens around – and it’s actually not so much for its iron content although that’s likely to be your first association.

Popeye the Sailor has been eating tones of it for decades but what works for him is not really what works for the rest of us, at least when iron is concerned.

Spinach has a high nutritional value and that’s beyond any doubt. It is very rich in antioxidants, it is a rich source of vitamin A (particularly high in lutein, which is very good for the eyes), vitamin C, E, K, B and magnesium.

Spinach is also a rich source of Folate, which is an essential ingredient for our cells and is especially important for pregnant women and those trying to conceive. However, boiling it can more than halve the Folate content while microwaving it doesn’t seem to have such an effect.

Folate aside, boiling spinach actually increases its nutritional value several times as it helps our body use the nutrients more effectively.

A compound in spinach called oxalate prevents iron and calcium from being absorbed into our body. In case of calcium, even though spinach has a high calcium content, its absorption is decreased by oxalate to only around 5% so don’t count on it too much.

Similar goes for iron – oxalate both reduces the absorption and flushes it out of our intestines. Boiling is a good way to get rid of some oxalate content and for this purpose you should boil it for at least 2 minutes. Another way is to eat a vitamin C rich food together with spinach to help deactivate oxalate. Continue reading

What is Diet Anxiety and what can we do about it?

(Diet) Anxiety may overshadow but can be recon with

(Diet) Anxiety may overshadow but can be recon with

Dear Dr. Mo: Whenever I think of starting a diet, I begin to feel strong anxiety and I fear that I will fail – so I keep putting it off. I’m not having hopes of becoming any super-model looking person but I still cannot bring myself to start my diet. What’s happening to me? 

Dear reader: Losing weight can sometimes become an overwhelming pressure, imposed on us more from the outside than coming really from the inside.

True, we do want to look fit and feel good about our body because this is good for our health but it is the nature of our modern society, which favours skinny looking, (almost) anorexic appearance augmented further by computer programs to unrealistic shapes, that pressures us to achieve the unachievable – and to ultimately, fail.

Humans are the only animal capable of thinking about and more importantly, imagining the future and this unique feature we owe to our frontal part of the brain, the one whose level of development and complexity is so uniquely human. This ability is also responsible for anxiety.

Anxiety is the product of our fear of future and because we are able to imagine our futures, this can cause us to be frightened – to feel anxiety.

One thing that’s very well known to psychologists (but not to most other people) is how bad we are at imagining our futures: the more distant an event is in time the fuzzier it will look in our mind’s eye and the more it will be painted by our present thoughts and feelings (we are thus unable to escape the present – this is called ‘presentism’). The problem is that we won’t know this and will think that the way we imagined it is exactly the way it will happen – and alas, it won’t. Continue reading

Diet killers – how to succeed in weight loss?

Weight loss is tough and temptation knows this

Weight loss is tough and temptation knows this

Dear Dr. Mo: When is the best moment to start my weight loss diet? What should I pay attention to and strategize around?

Dear reader: Stress is one of the biggest diet killers.

Stress exhausts our mental capacities and diminishes our will power to stay the course and not give in to temptations.

Temptations are another big enemy of weight loss diets.

That said, the best you can do is start the diet while you are on vacation – although it may sound counter-intuitive, this way, less over all stress will give you a mental edge to keep up. 

We are more likely to stick to promises we make (to ourselves) and not cheat, when we feel good, relaxed and refreshed – in other words, when our minds are not tired and taxed.

While vacations reduce stressors, they usually offer more temptations. To tackle them head on you can make an effort to avoid them in the first place (this is the safest and easiest way).

Start with emptying your home (or a hotel room) of any food and drink items that might tempt you to give in. Do not really count on your will power to constantly refrain from the ‘forbidden’ food: every time you say ‘no’, a bit of your energy is spent and at the end of the day, when you come home tired and full of impressions and thoughts, this physical exhaustion alone is more than enough to deplete your ability to resist and sooner or later you will fail; so, best is not to have any louring food around.

Economist Dan Silverman says that a good way to save the will power for big temptations, when we really need it to resist, is to allow small indulgences to seep into our diet every now and then (like having an occasional desert). He calls this “rational self-indulgence”. Continue reading

Back pain – how to reduce it?

Dear Dr. Mo: My lower back hurts. What can I do besides medication to reduce the pain?

Back pain affects 80% of the population

Back pain affects 80% of the population

Dear reader: Back pain is sadly a very common ailment that affects most of us (some 80%) at some point in life. Although in many cases some anatomical/organic problem exists in the back, our repeated behaviours stress our bodies and strain our muscles and bones, making the pain more frequent, prolonged and more intense.

There are a few behaviours you can try to avoid to reduce your back pain (especially lower back pain) or to prevent it from occurring in the first place. Continue reading

Procrastinate your way into losing weight

Dear Dr. Mo: I can’t seem to make myself really start with a weight loss program – I always come up with a reason not to. I really have to lose some weight and it is a number 1. priority but I am failing to start. What can I do? 

Never start tomorrow!

Never start tomorrow!

Dear reader: It’s like with any other activity we feel a pressing need to perform – if we have to do it, most of us will rather do anything else instead.

This neat and classic evasive tactic our minds are using to postpone something into the future is called Procrastination, and I am sure you are aware of it. Continue reading

Recommendations for a healthy physical activity

Dear readers: The most often recommended formula

Get out and exercise!

Get out and exercise!

for a weekly dose of healthy physical activity, which we believe will promote good health and a healthy weight, is that you cash in 150 minutes of moderate exercise (activity, which is aerobic) spread over a minimum of 5 days a week.

This formula can of course be played around with to match your needs, preferences and time.
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

Mediterranean diet – a healthy way of eating

Dear readers: Many posts on this site discuss different aspects of a healthy diet and mostly emphasize the importance of balanced, versatile and flexible but

Versatile and healthy food choices

Versatile and healthy food choices

healthy food choices, whether you are staying put or travelling.

This pattern of eating could be named in different ways and many have heard of the so called Mediterranean diet, which is in fact exactly that – a variety of good foods arranged in a flexible manner throughout the day.

The most recent and very exciting results came out of one Spanish trial just a few days ago, proving without a shadow of a doubt, the benefits of this ‘Mediterranean’ eating style. Continue reading

The importance of eating breakfast

Dear Dr. Mo: How important is breakfast for my health? Should I skip it if I want to lose some weight? I see some of my friends do this.

Dear reader: To answer simply – breakfast is the most important meal of the day and you should never skip it.

That said; let me quickly give a few important reasons for this.

Make it a healthy choice

Make it a healthy choice

Fist and foremost, if you want to lose some weight or just maintain the one you have (especially if it is a healthy one and feels good to you) eating breakfast every morning is the way to go.

I’ve spoken to people whose strategy was to skip breakfast thinking they would reduce their daily amount of calories – you are guessing already – they have failed at that. The reason such a strategy doesn’t work is because without a proper breakfast, you become very hungry by lunch time and not only that but you drive your body into energy conservation mode in which calories are being conserved and stored rather than spent and where your metabolism slows down – all of which is bad news for weight loss. 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.

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

6 myths about healthy eating and weight loss

Dear readers: After receiving many of your questions related to weight loss, diet and healthy eating, I have realized that there are several misconceptions about dieting, which are bound to affect your diet plans. I think now is the good time to talk about some of the most common advice, which you will hear the minute you announce that you’ve decided to lose some weight or to change your diet habits. I am not saying that all these are completely devoid of truth, but even with a grain of truth in it, a proper interpretation is in order.

One of the first things you’ll probably hear is that you shouldn’t eat after 6 pm or 7 pm or 8pm, or generally in the evening and at night.

Dieting is riddled with myths and fads

Of course, there is no magical cut off time after which you must not eat or else…
What matters in your weight loss plan are your total calories you eat and not really when you do it. What’s true here is that most of us tend to eat more calories in the evening times during dinner or snacking after dinner. In this regard, it makes sense to limit the calories at night if you are one of those who eat more later in the day.

The next word of advice you’re likely to hear is that “eat smaller but more often” myth.

Just because some people eat like this naturally, and stay thin, doesn’t make it a rule for everyone. People who naturally eat like this tend to answer their body’s call and not some strict timing and schedule. Do not eat on the clock but rather listen to the signals the body sends. Eat when you are hungry and don’t wait for a specific time because then you might be too hungry and overeat.
Normally, whichever way works for you, be mindful of the calories to avoid eating too many. Continue reading

Tricks to avoid extra calories

Dear Dr. Mo: I’m trying hard to balance my weight but it doesn’t always work. Are there some tips and tricks to help me in my struggle?

Dear reader: Having a healthy weight and maintaining a healthy and balanced diet is a challenging task for all of us.

In today’s fast-track world we certainly need a few tricks up our sleeve to be able to stand our ground when eating is concerned and not give in to many calorie dense food pleasures, which end up adding tons of calories to our daily intake increasing our weight and chances for long term health problems like heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and stroke.

Switch to water!

First of all, think of water!

Water is life and we are all told this repeatedly but it is also a good way to help you lose 2 – 3 kilos in 6 months! That’s what the research shows and what all of us can try – simply switch from other beverages (sodas, alcohol etc.) you drink each day to water and you will see the results. This trick of course works only if your other eating habits do not compensate for the calories you are saving by drinking water. This also works with calorie free beverages but since some studies have linked these beverages to a paradoxical weight gains and increase in triglycerides, it is best and certainly healthiest to stick to water. Continue reading

Low-carb foods – is low-carb healthy?

Dear Dr. Mo: I’m considering a low-carb diet. I’m thinking to cut my calories in order to support my weight-loss plan. Is it a good idea and what are some low-carb foods to start with?

Dear reader:Eating a low carb diet as a way to lose weight may sound attractive but it may also backfire as such dieting could drive our body into an energy conserving mode. In this mode, the body stores more fat for a rainy day than it normally would – this is because we provide insufficient amount of calories over a longer period of time and in anticipation of yet another calorie-poor meal, our metabolic engine slows down and conserves energy more and more.

Veggies are a great source of nutrients while being low-carb.

What this actually means is that over time, eating a low carb/low calorie diet may turn out to bring more fat during intermission when ou are not on a diet and even during the diet itself. Read about counting your calories as a tool to plan your weight loss.

Still, low-carb food could be useful to control your blood sugar and to support your weight loss but only in combination with other foods with complex carbs, protein, fiber etc. What I’m saying is that a balanced diet is more efficient and certainly healthier than any extreme diet in which some nutrients are almost completely eliminated – i.e. low carb diets.

Here are a few well-known and smart low-carb choices I’d use every day in combination with other healthy foods to maintain a healthy diet and attain and maintain a healthy weight: Continue reading