Thursday, November 19, 2009

Gobble, Gobble . . . But Not Literally!

Thanksgiving is a week from today, and this means we’re going to be gobbling. The average Thanksgiving meal, without seconds, adds up to about 3,000 calories—and you’ll need to walk about 29 miles to burn those calories. Sorry. Call us the “Thanksgiving Grinch.”

We all know, as wonderful as they are, the holidays can also be a stressful time. For each of us, this means something different, and we all deal with it in different ways. Many of us comfort ourselves with food, and no doubt about it, this is the “food season.” With parties, gifts of food, and holiday dinners, it’s especially hard not to gain weight, let alone lose any. Remember, the holidays are for enjoying good times with friends and loved ones. During the holidays, the key is avoiding weight gain!

Recognize your triggers. Holiday food IS tempting. Enjoy friendly conversation away from the dessert table. Engaged in good conversation, you will be less likely to excuse yourself and go across the room for dessert. And you don’t need to deny your sweet tooth entirely. Look for a lighter desert, or take just a small portion. A few bites taste just as good as half the pie.

So, as the season of eating creeps upon us, we thought we’d offer a few tips and gentle reminders:

  • Portion size: ½ cup of mashed potatoes, about 111 calories—the size of a computer mouse; ½ cup cornbread stuffing about 175 calories; 3.5 oz. serving of roasted turkey breast (white meat without skin), about 115 calories—the size of a deck of cards; 3.5 oz. dark meat with skin, about 221 calories. Now think about the sides: gravy, rolls, butter, green bean casserole, pecan pie with whipped cream—and appetizers. Can you imagine how your plate looks?
  • Quality vs. quantity: So let’s go back to the dinner described above. Pay attention to portion size, but also to healthy choices. White meat is leaner with less fat and fewer calories. Leave the skin on your plate. Substitute a homemade cranberry relish for canned cranberry sauce with high fructose corn syrup. Go lighter on the gravy. Try non-candied sweet potatoes and leave out the melted marshmallows. And keep in mind that pumpkin pie has just 1/3 the calories of pecan pie (and leave off the mountain of whipped cream—instead try a teaspoon spread across the top—same taste, fewer calories and fat).
  • In addition to the dinner portion of the day, try to organize a big before or after dinner walk. It’s an opportunity to socialize away from the food, rev-up your metabolism and work some physical activity into your day.

Now that we’ve effectively spoiled your holiday meal, let us say in all sincerity, “Have a wonderful (and healthy) Thanksgiving!”

Friday, November 13, 2009

Some Like It Hot

Spice it up, mix it up, make it happen! The world is full of many wondrous things—like hot peppers. (OK, we may not all agree that hot peppers are “wondrous” things, but guess what? They’re good for you.)

Maybe you don’t need, or want food spiced with peppers so hot that the tears run down your cheeks, but there are some solid reasons to add “a little spice” to your life. Reasons like:

  • Clearing congestion
  • Help with weight loss
  • Help stop the spread of prostate cancer
  • Relieve pain
  • Boost immunity
  • Prevent stomach ulcers by killing bacteria
  • Reduce blood cholesterol, triglyceride levels
  • Help fight and prevent cancers, including stomach cancer

It's all due to Capsaicin, a natural chemical that puts the "HOT" in hot peppers. It’s been clinically proven to relieve headaches and sinus inflammation, but capsaicin may also be the key to a healthy heart. Studies show hot peppers may prevent blood clots and heart disease by increasing blood flow. When ingested, capsaicin significantly activates the body's circulation process. Unlike drugs with stimulant side effects, it promotes circulatory blood flow through its' natural ability to conduct thermal heat while also inhibiting the nerve receptors that cause swelling and pain (as in arthritis). Red chili peppers, such as cayenne, have been shown to reduce blood cholesterol, triglyceride levels, and platelet aggregation, while increasing the body's ability to dissolve fibrin, a substance connected to the formation of blood clots. Spicing your meals with chili peppers may also protect the fats in your blood from damage by free radicals—a first step in the development of atherosclerosis.

Several studies concentrating on gastrointestinal diseases have found that capsaicin also increases blood flow to the stomach and stimulates the production of digestive juices. One study in rats found evidence that capsaicin also protected against stomach damage caused by alcohol. A study on gastric disorders at Duke University, showed capsaicin may actually lead to a cure for certain intestinal diseases. The Duke team found that a specific nerve cell receptor appears to be necessary to initiate the development of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), findings they believe could change the way physicians treat this disorder.

All peppers are rich in vitamins A, C, and K, but red peppers are stuffed with them. The antioxidant vitamins A and C help prevent cell damage, cancer, and diseases related to aging, and they support immune function. They also reduce inflammation like that found in arthritis and asthma. Vitamin K promotes proper blood clotting, strengthens bones, and helps protect cells from oxidative damage. Red peppers are also a good source of the carotenoid lycopene (also found in tomatoes), which is earning a reputation for helping to prevent prostate cancer as well as cancer of the bladder, cervix, and pancreas. Furthermore, hot peppers trigger metabolic activity which can lead to increased calorie burn and greater weight loss.

And this concludes today’s lesson on hot peppers and capsaicin. So, spice up your life (always good advice)—and with fire on your tongue and a tear in your eye—your health.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Think Sick—Be Sick: The Nocebo Effect

Some call it the “placebo’s evil twin.” But the nocebo effect is real, and it really can make you sick. While a placebo effect (Latin for “I shall please”) refers to health benefits produced by a treatment that should have no effect, people experiencing a nocebo effect (Latin for “to do harm”) experience the opposite. They presume the worst health-wise, and that’s what they get.

A nocebo response occurs when the suggestion of a negative effect leads to an actual negative outcome. Patients who expect distressing side effects before taking a medication or from a procedure are more likely to develop them. But the nocebo effect is more than just the power of suggestion—it can lead to actual physical consequences. The stress alone created by the nocebo effect can actually have a long-lasting impact on a person’s overall health.

Why are we even talking about the nocebo effect? Why would anyone want to put someone in a negative frame of mind that can result in an adverse effect on health and well-being? Well . . . we do it to ourselves all the time. We tell ourselves, “It’s too hard to find time to become more physically active.” We tell ourselves, “We can’t lose weight; that we’ve tried and failed too many times.” We tell ourselves, “We are destined to be the way we are,” and we give up. All this negative self-talk becomes self-fulfilling.

But consider what happens when we practice positive self-talk. When we tell ourselves, “I am worth it. I can do this. I can make this happen,” guess what? We are, we can and we do.

Here’s one final question—or three: What do we do once we understand the placebo / nocebo effects and problems? Will we adjust our expectations accordingly? Can we defeat the effects of negativity by simply being aware of them? Maybe it all comes down to “mind over mind”—think well, be well.