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

Cesarean versus vaginal delivery – which to go for and why?

Dear Dr. Mo: I’m due soon and I’ve been considering to ask for a cesarean birth – what would you medically recommend a woman should go for, normal or cesarean?

No matter how you deliver, this is your future

No matter how you deliver, this is your future

Dear reader: What you are considering is what we term a Cesarean delivery (C-section) on maternal request, in which case you would undergo a planned C-section delivery before the natural onset of labor, without you or your baby really medically needing it and in such scenarios, I tend to advise against it.

But here’s the thing:

The reality is that there’s no good evidence to facilitate a textbook counselling in this case and most of the available data comparing the two delivery routes (planned C-section versus planned vaginal delivery or what you refer to as ‘normal’) is weak and ought to be interpreted cautiously.

Things to consider:

When you desire a cesarean delivery, your doctor should consider your specific (risk) factors, such as age, body mass index (i.e. if you’ve gained a lot of pregnancy weight, any surgery is more risky), accuracy of estimated gestational age (i.e. C-section on maternal request should not be performed before a gestational age of 39 weeks which is full term), reproductive plans for the future, personal values, and cultural context. I know that sometimes, some past experiences (e.g, violence, trauma, or poor obstetric outcomes) and anxiety about the whole birth process may be what’s prompting such requests and if any of these are what concerns you, bring it up with your doctor.

If your main worry is pain during delivery, then prenatal childbirth education, emotional support in labor (i.e. your partner or someone else close to you could attend), and anesthesia for childbirth (epidural) should be offered and could eliminate this issue entirely. 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

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

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

Measuring your blood pressure at home – should you do it and how to do it correctly?

Measuring your own is the best way to track it

Measuring your own is the best way to track it

Dear Dr. Mo: How important is regular measuring of blood pressure at home and how to do it correctly?

Dear reader: Taking measurements at home is one of the best ways to keep track of your blood pressure and know its values at different times of day. This is all very useful for your physician to see the ways your treatment is working and whether or not some adjustments need to be made.

If not on meds, you’ll be able to see how your life style influences your blood pressure values – this could also be very useful to your doctor.

There are a few things you can do to make sure your values are as correctly measured as possible. Of course, your monitor needs to be in good condition and properly gaged – there are trusted brands out there you can get so speak to your pharmacist and/or your doctor. I bought OMRON to my parents and it’s working wonderfully.

If the cuff is to large of to small for you hand, order a custom one as cuffs need to fit correctly in order to take proper measures.

Now, with the technical bit out of the way here are 5 basic and golden principles to follow whenever you are measuring your blood pressure at home:

1. Avoid eating heavy food, smoking (anything), or drinking caffeinated beverages for at least 30 minutes before taking a measure

2. Avoid talking while testing and try to remain calm; rest and relax 5 minutes before testing and breathe deeply and slowly

3. Avoid crossing legs if possible; sit comfortably with back supported in a chair and feet on the floor

4. Rest your arm on a table, desk or chair arm so that the arm is at heart level (or as close to this as you can)

5. Last but equally important as this is something all of us tend to do: avoid looking directly into the display while taking a measurement – look away and relax Continue reading

Endurance exercise and healthy aging

Endurance training  may be the way to go

Endurance training may be the way to go

Dear Dr. Mo: Is exercise a way to ensure healthy aging?

Dear reader: Current data shows positive associations between aerobic fitness/physical exercise and healthier aging. In fact long-term exercise proves to be one of the keys for long-term health.

In a recent interesting pilot study, it was shown that there was a positive association between telomere length in skeletal muscle cells and long-term endurance-training exercise in older people.

Telomeres are like caps on ends of our chromosomes (Chromosomes are genetic material carriers) in cells; when these caps shorten enough, the cell stops dividing further and dies – telomeres’ length is decreasing with age and they are thought to be potential markers of cellular age, associated with physical aging process.

What the study shows is that older endurance trained athletes had longer telomere length compared with older people with medium activity levels. The study also found a positive association between aerobic fitness and muscle telomere length in endurance exercise trained participants. 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

How to briefly thwart anxiety with technology – it may be simpler than you think

Dear readers: Anxiety can be really upsetting and unhealthy. Anyone who has experienced its peaking extreme (Panic Attack) knows immediately what I mean; even without such an attack, anxiety can disturb our daily functioning.

Anxiety is the fear of future, often times exaggerated and without a clear reason. This is because our brains think and imagine many possible future scenarios and worry over a number of outcomes, which in reality may never come to pass. Our brains anticipate too much – we have anticipating machines in our heads. Continue reading

Exercise for healthy hearts and minds

 

Dear Dr. Mo: I’m a guy in my late 40s, not overweight and I work a lot. Is there something I can easily do to stay healthy and live longer?

Dear reader: Many things are important as we age, and this goes for both sexes, not just men: blood sugar levels, blood pressure, mobility and fitness, risks for cancer, heart and mental health.
For us men, I would say that the latter two are really important and that by maintaining them we surely improve all other parameters to help us live longer and better although women are no different in this regard. Continue reading

Seasonal (spring) allergy – why does it happen and what can we do about it?

Dear readers: The beginning of spring marks the onset of a lot of misery for millions of people all over the world who suffer from seasonal (spring) allergies mostly manifested as something medically called ‘seasonal allergic rhinitis’ or more commonly, hay fever – the daily (and sometimes nightly too) rituals of sniffling, hacking, sneezing and swearing may begin. 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