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

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

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

The 5-second rule – can you eat food you dropped on the floor?

Dear Dr. Mo: I’ve been told that if I dropped my food on the floor and picked it up within 5 seconds, it would still be safe and clean to eat –

Food gets contaminated immediately

Food gets contaminated immediately

bacteria didn’t have enough time to jump on it. Is that true?

Dear reader: To answer your question on the so called ‘5-second rule’ simply, this rule is not correct and NO, no small amount of time can pass to still allow us to pick the food up from the floor and safely eat it – germs free; and I mean no amount of time – not even a millisecond, or even less than that – not even a nano or a piko or however unimaginably small amount of time you want to use as a yard stick. Continue reading

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

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

Saunas and health

Dear Dr. Mo: Is sauna really healthy and should I go there when I have a flu?

Dear reader: When you are in most saunas, its dry heat, which can become as high as 85° C (in some saunas, even higher), can have some intense effects on the body.

Your skin temperature spikes to about 40° C within minutes. The average person will pour out a half a liter of sweat during a short stay in a sauna.

Saunas have been around for centuries – its relaxing and well-being effects on the body are well known

The heart rate jumps by 30% or more, allowing the heart to approximately double the amount of blood it pumps out each minute (its minute volume).
Stress hormones ACTH and Cortisol rise substantially while Adrenalin and Noradrenaline are reduced; other changes in hormonal balances happen as well.

These effects (vigorous sweating, increased heart rate and hormonal changes) are similar to those induced by a moderate exercise, which is why saunas could be so appealing.Circulation patterns change while in sauna and most of the extra blood flow is directed to the skin, which becomes reddish; the circulation actually diverts blood away from the internal organs.

Blood pressure in saunas is always unpredictable, rising in some people but falling in others, which might be a health risk for some people with blood pressure problems. Saunas generally should not be considered as a therapeutic approach to hyper or hypotension – visit your doctor first. Continue reading

Skipping your meals – how bad is it?

Dear Dr. Mo: I’m on a diet, but it sometimes turns into no-food scenario for hours and hours after which I feel nervous and weak. How bad is it to skip meals?

Dear reader: Delaying or skipping meals is among the worst things you can do in your diet.  It causes your blood sugar levels to fall, even beyond optimal limits and this in turn causes you to feel cranky and nervous.
When the blood sugar is low this condition is called Hypoglycemia and it is usually mild but it can become severe and even life-threatening.

Hypoglycemia is often caused by glucose-lowering medications such as insulin, sulfonylureas or glinides but in case of skipping your meals this too can be the culprit for the condition. It deprives you of the needed carbohydrates and other nutrients and causes your blood sugar to drop, sometimes to dangerous levels.

Never skip your meals – rather, plan ahead and eat healthy

As I said, if the hypoglycemic state becomes severe, it may cause seizures, loss of consciousness and even coma. These grave consequences are usually the result of a combination of factors like anti-diabetic medication, vigorous exercise and too little or no food and rarely happen just if you’ve skipped a few meals, but this doesn’t say skipping meals is something you should tolerate.

For your note, symptoms of hypoglycemia could include the following:

Fiber-rich foods – your allies in healthy weight loss

Dear Dr. Mo: I wish to lose some weight and I know fiber is important part of a good weight-loss plan. My diet so far has not been very healthy and I am trying to improve it. Which foods do you suggest as a good source of fiber?

Dear reader: Nutritional super foods, rich in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and other health preserving compounds are all around us. And yet, we succumb to advertising and our own cravings for sugars, greasy junk food and the simple fact that fast food is easier to acquire, it’s more readily available and in truth, it is often cheaper.

Colorful salads are a sure shot when it comes to fiber-rich food

The first step is to become aware of these things and understand that in the 21st century, eating healthy presents a real challenge and asks for will power.

The magic word in today’s healthy diet which attains and maintains a healthy weight and good shape is, planning.

I say that in any weight loss plan, a strategic goal has to be Attain and Maintain.

To Attain and Maintain, you need proper tools, one of which is dietary fiber.
Fiber absolutely has to be on your daily menu – it not only helps in weight loss by keeping you fuller for longer and by regulating your bowel movement, it helps regulate cholesterol levels and ratios in the blood, preventing both weight gain and heart disease, Type 2 diabetes etc.

To help in your planning, here are some fiber-rich (super)foods you could include in your everyday meals: 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

The danger in sweetness

Dear Dr. Mo: I love sweet foods. I am slightly overweight but nothing serious and I try to control it. I’ve heard that fructose can cause heart disease and is bad for the health. Now I know fructose is found in fruit so how can this be true?

Dear reader: Let me begin by saying that two predominant sugars in our modern diet are glucose and fructose. Our cells need sugars (carbohydrates) to extract energy form them. Virtually every cell in our body can use glucose to get that energy.

With fructose however, the story has a little evil twist – only the liver cells can get energy directly from fructose metabolism and this is where the trouble starts for us.

Fructose in fruit is not the one to worry about. Fruit is good for your health

Fructose in liver undergoes a series of metabolic changes and one of those changes is that the liver uses fructose to create fat!

So when you think of fructose think of fat as well.Feed your liver with enough fructose (especially in today’s fast diets which unfortunately abound with sugary foods and beverages) and gradually, very small droplets of fat will begin to accumulate inside the liver cells – such a process of fat build up is called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, virtually unknown before 1980 and affecting a large number of adults and 80-90% of those who are obese or have diabetes.This goes to say that what’s changed in the past few decades has not been us physically, but our life styles and especially our diets and I don’t mean extra fruit intake but all the sweet foods and drinks we manufacture.
Continue reading

An apple a day? You should take this advice

Dear Dr. Mo: Is there some truth in the old saying that “An apple a day keeps a doctor away”?

Dear reader:  Your question is timed well as we are now in the season of apple picking. This saying could be in principle applied to many fruits and veggies and I always recommend a balanced diet to accommodate for a variety of healthful foods to keep us healthy. Here are some of the reasons why apples are so revered for their health benefits.

Apples belong to ‘super foods’

Apples lower cholesterol – there is about 4 grams of fiber per average-sized apple. Pectin is one of those fibers, which is soluble and is thought to lower your “bad” cholesterol (LDL) by reducing the absorption of it from food and bile and stimulating the body to use the cholesterol rather than to store it.

Apple helps with constipation and diarrhea – Pectin again, increases the volume and viscosity of stool and this relieves both constipation and diarrhea symptoms. Generally, fiber in apple (as with all other fiber-rich food) is beneficial for our digestion. Continue reading

Tired legs in the morning – why is this and what to do?

Dear Dr. Mo: My legs feel tired when I wake up. What could be wrong and what to do?

Dear reader: A feeling of tiredness and heaviness in legs is a symptom, which can accompany many health-related disorders, ranging from those as mild as insufficient sleep and rest to more severe ones like Fibromyalgia or Seasonal Affective Disorder.

For most of people, tired and achy legs is an experience, which occasionally comes and goes without any medical intervention.  This is usually from standing or sitting for longer periods of time and the problem goes away once the legs are rested or moved to a more comfortable position – crossing your legs often for instance or wearing uncomfortable shoes may contribute to discomfort.

Elevating your legs may help relieve some discomfort

In your case, however, waking up to a discomforting feeling of tired and heavy legs may not be caused by the lack of rest alone and it could be due to insufficient sleep or poor sleep quality.
If you generally feel tired in the morning, it may mean that your brain and other parts of your body (including legs) aren’t getting enough oxygen during sleep – this could be due to breathing problems like snoring or deviations in your nasal cavity (narrow or bent passageways in your nose), inflammation of sinuses, seasonal or other types of allergies which congest the nose, viral or bacterial infections of your upper respiratory system (nose and throat) and a more serious condition in which a person stops breathing all together for several seconds during sleep – this is called sleep apnea.

Feeling of tiredness can also come from the vitamin D deficiency and this has become a relatively recent discovery that a vitamin D deficiency is not only bad for bones and heart, it affects the rest of our body as well and you may feel fatigued and tired as a consequence.

Most of the time, the cause of this uncomfortable feeling is too much strain on your legs during day (either by walking/running or sitting for too long) and not enough of good quality sleep in a well aired room during night.
Also, don’t forget your head – stress, agitation and anxiety can disrupt sleep patterns and add to the feeling of tiredness in the morning.  Continue reading

Constipation during pregnancy – what happens and what to do?

Dear Dr. Mo: What to do for constipation during pregnancy?

Fresh fruits and vegetables are among the best remedies for constipation.
I took this photo on an Adriatic island of Vis last summer

Dear reader: Constipation (infrequent bowel movements or having difficulty in passing stools – waste  products of digestion), is a common gastrointestinal problem and also a common complaint in pregnancy, usually affecting women during the first and/or last trimester of the pregnancy.

Normally, food is passing through intestines via muscle contractions, which slowly push it in the forward direction. In the colon (the large intestine), most of the water and salt content from digested material is reabsorbed into the body and this process is essential for keeping our bodily functions balanced and normal.

First of all, what’s considered ‘normal’ frequency for passing stools varies widely. You’ve probably heard that ‘only every day is good enough’ and this would be an ideal case but in general, let me tell you that one is probably experiencing constipation if one passes fewer than three stools a week, and these stools are hard and dry. This can happen for any number of reasons, most commonly when there is not enough fluid or fiber-rich food in a diet or the colon muscle contractions are slow and/or uncoordinated.
Continue reading