Don’t Go Breaking Your Heart – Myth-busting and Top Tips for a Healthier Heart

I recently listened to a healthy heart masterclass sponsored by the Food Revolution Network where Dr. Mimi Guarneri, a holistic cardiologist, shares tips on how to prevent or reverse heart disease without relying solely on drugs, surgeries or stents. So, in this blog, I’ll highlight the top myths along with health tips to keep your blood pumping machine in optimal condition.

Myth #1:

  • Your genes are not your destiny. Did you know that 90% of heart disease is related to lifestyle? And because these lifestyle and environmental factors are passed down from previous generations, you see family histories of heart disease. 
  • And according to Dr. Dean Ornish who is a proponent of a plant-based diet, four out of five cases of coronary atherosclerosis can be reversed using diet, exercise, meditation and group support. I’m personally a fan of the pegan or flexitarian diet (mostly vegetables and fruits but occasional meat and fish consumption) which is considered mostly plant-based.
  • Age and genetics do not seal your fate. You’re never too old to adopt new habits in spite of what all the old, ‘not-so-wise’ sayings indicate. Based on this Johns Hopkins study, conducted on 6,000 atherosclerosis patients aged from 44-84 years old, healthy lifestyle changes decreased risk of death by 80% no matter what age group they were in. 

Myth #2:

  • There is more evidence pointing to the lack of evidence on dietary cholesterol as the main risk factor in heart disease. In fact, up to 75% of people who experience heart attacks have what’s considered normal cholesterol levels.
  • Read my earlier blog on the role that cholesterol has in heart disease: https://community.wholistics.health/heart-disease-and-the-role-of-cholesterol/
  • In order to avoid or reverse heart disease, you need to consider all pillars of health (nutrition, exercise, mind and sleep) and stop focusing on just a number that is not even a good predictor of heart disease.

Myth #3:

  • According to Dr. Guarneri, if medicine took care of heart disease, it wouldn’t be killing eight million people every year. She states that 92% of first heart attacks are totally preventable.
  • Medications can decrease heart disease risk but they are almost never as effective as sustainable and lasting lifestyle changes.
  • Addressing root causes of heart disease is what’s important, not reducing symptoms with medications.

Heart Health Tips #1:

  • Eat more of the right omega oils (omega 3) like oily fish and fish oil to get the right balance.
  • You need omega-6 oils but we consume way too much with oils like corn, safflower, soy, sunflower and canola and these processed vegetable oils create a pro-inflammatory response in our bodies.
  • The best vegetarian sources of omega-3 oils are flax seeds and chia seeds which should be ground up prior to consumption so they are digested properly.
  • Of the three types of Omega 3s (ALA, EPA, DHA), ALA is found in flax and chia seeds but EPA and DHA are mainly found in fish and algae. And your body needs all three, so if you don’t like the idea of consuming oily fish, you can opt for algae. Here’s my favorite that’s been tested to be free of heavy-metals:

https://www.energybits.com/energybits.html

Heart Health Tip #2

  • White flour, sugar and other processed foods cause inflammation and increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
  • When consuming grains, opt for whole grain to ensure you’re also getting the soluble fiber and the phytonutrients.
  • Pseudo-grains like quinoa, millet, buckwheat and amaranth are good options.
  • I’m personally not a fan of a lot of whole grain consumption – eating a bowl of whole grain pasta will make my glucose monitor sing but when eaten sparingly, it’s fine.

Heart Health Tip #3

  • Dr. Guarneri suggests to NOT eat red or processed meat. Although I agree with avoiding processed meat which is high in salt, nitrates and other additives, I think eating clean, grass-fed meat in small portions should be ok if you are generally healthy and want to avoid heart disease.

Heart Health Tip #4

  • If you don’t visit the dentist regularly for oral check-ups and cleaning, you should know that periodontal (gum) disease is related to heart disease. Evidence has shown that bacteria in the mouth that causes gum disease travels to the heart and triggers inflammation in the blood vessels and increases your cardiovascular disease risk.
  • So keep up the daily flossing, Waterpik (which I love) and the bi-annual visits to the dentist.

Heart Health Tip #5

  • Did you know that evidence shows that emotional intelligence plays a significant role in the occurrence of coronary heart disease? When you experience feelings like anger and hostility, you can increase your risk of heart attack by more than 200%!
  • It’s important to be in loving relationships with family and friends as it will have a physical impact on your heart health.
  • Make sure to take actions to support your emotional well-being with mind care (yoga, meditation, etc.) and positive social interactions.

Heart Health Tip #6

Heart Health Tip #7

  • Dr. Guarneri suggests dancing as an excellent form of exercise as it’s not only great physical movement but the music and the rhythms elicit positive emotional responses which are great for the heart.
  • If you prefer regular exercise over dance, keep it up 3-5x per week and make sure to include aerobics, strength training and stretching into the regimen.
  • Remember – variety, frequency and FUN are key to a sustainable program of movement.

Heart Health Tip #8

  • Did you know that more than 70% of all visits to the doctor are related to stress? And research shows that chronic stress can raise your blood pressure, cause inflammation and increase your risk of a heart attack.
  • Engaging in activities like yoga, meditation and deep breathing exercises can calm your heart and your brain.
  • I like Dr. Weil’s 4-7-8 breathing exercise to shift the energy balance to a peaceful state: https://www.drweil.com/videos-features/videos/breathing-exercises-4-7-8-breath/

Heart Health Tips #9

  • The journey is as important as the destination so focus on progress with small, tangible steps that you CAN do that will become a habit over the long term.

To learn more about this masterclass visit: https://heart.foodrevolution.org/masterclass/?orid=174172&opid=364

You Are What Y’all Did With What You Eat

I recently listened to a great webinar on one of my favorite health experts, Dr. Robert Lustig, a neuro-endocrinologist and New York Times best-selling author (Fat Chance, The Hacking of the American Mind, and Metabolical). He has been active in promoting health policy to reverse the obesity and diabetes pandemic that is engulfing our society.  

In this blog, I’ll share some highlights from this 70-minute webinar (hosted by the Commonwealth Club of California) and the two key tenets from his new book, Metabolicalthe Lures and Lies of Processed Food, Nutrition and Modern Medicine.

Dr. Lustig’s standard mantra used to be “you are what you eat” but now stands corrected with the revised statement that “you are what y’all (food industry) did with what you eat”. He is referring to food processing and the food industry that tricks you into thinking you’re eating healthily when in fact, you’re eating all the foods that are basically designed to destroy your health.

So, he has two essential rules to live by when it comes to judging ‘healthy food’. Eat foods that:

  1. Protect the liver
  2. Feed the gut

Any food that does both is healthy and any food that does neither is poison.

Protect the Liver

  • Ged rid of sugar in the diet. Sugar is like alcohol as liver metabolizes it the same way and over time, leads to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Although virtually non-existent in the 1980s, 45% of us have NAFLD today. In particular, children are what he calls the “canaries in the coal mine” as they are getting these diseases of aging. Type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease used to be diseases of alcoholics and aging and now children are getting them. Dr. Lustig estimates that 20% of normal weight children and 40% of obese children have a fatty liver today and blames this on the sugary, processed foods that kids consume.
  • Eat organic and stay away from pesticide-ridden foods (eg: Round-up), excess iron and heavy metals.
  • Avoid eating too much BCAA (branched chain amino acids) – unless you are a body builder, you don’t need to consume excess BCAA as this gets converted to liver fat and results in insulin resistance.
  • Dr. Lustig advocated two lab tests to get a baseline on your liver condition:
    • ALT – 25 is optimal , NOT 40 (which is the new reference range). In 1976, the ALT upper limit was 25 but now it’s 40 because so much of the population has fatty liver disease. These reference ranges reflect the population so as the country gets fatter, the ranges are also moving up.
    • Uric acid level – upper limit is 7.0 but it should be no higher than 5.5 as this marker is a proxy for sugar consumption.

Feed the Gut

  • You need to feed the bacteria in your gut with insoluble and soluble fiber to keep it happy and avoid conditions like leaky gut, irritable bowel syndrome and systemic inflammation.
  • Dr. Lustig is known as the “anti-sugar crusader” in the industry and his lecture has over 100,000 views (I watched it three times as it was that good) – here’s a condensed version. However, he claims that fruit is healthy even though it has sugar because the amount of sugar in fruit is dwarfed by the amount of both soluble and insoluble fiber which prevents sugar absorption in the gut. Insoluble fiber forms a latticework and soluble fiber forms a gel and they both act as secondary barriers to prevent early absorption of sugar getting to the liver. If your gut doesn’t absorb it early, it goes further down to the intestine where the bacteria will chew it up for consumption to feed the gut. So even if you consumed the fruit, some of that sugar was spent to feed the microbiome.
  • Processed food has no fiber and there’s a reason why the industry doesn’t like fiber. For example, an orange does NOT freeze well as the ice crystals macerate the cell walls and when thawed, becomes mushy. But if you squeeze the orange and freeze it, it’s highly storable making it easier to sell. However, in processing the orange, you’ve deprived your microbiome of all the important fiber in the fruit.
  • Dr. Lustig explains that it’s what’s been done to the food that matters. There are four classifications of processed foods known as the NOVA system, and he uses an apple to describe what each class means:
    • Nova Class 1: An apple is unprocessed and doesn’t need a food label
    • Nova Class 2: Apple slices have been minimally processed as it’s been sliced, destemmed and placed in packaging
    • Nova Class 3: Apple sauce has been crushed/cooked and may or may not have added sugar
    • Nova Class 4: Apple drink which is the juice plus preservatives and added sugar with all the fiber removed. Nova Class 4 is considered ultra-processed and the predictor of disease. He claims that if it has a logo (those juices in the boxes with a cool name on it), it’s ultra-processed.
  • Meat is another example. You would think that meat should be Nova Class 1 if you are buying from the refrigerated meat aisle in the supermarket. However, if the animal comes from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO), that animal had to be pumped with antibiotics in order to survive. This permanently changed the cow’s microbiome which pervades in the meat. And when we eat it, we are causing gut dysfunction by eating the ‘sick’ meat. Hence, this meat is considered “processed” because of what the food industry did to it. But it’s not on the label as the food industry does not have to disclose any of this.

It’s the Insulin, Not Just the Glucose

  • Dr. Lustig says that people think glucose is the problem but it’s insulin that drives chronic metabolic disease. Rising glucose levels are a proxy for a rise in insulin so it’s important to keep both down. Giving insulin to Type 2 diabetics to control blood sugar is not the answer and it’s important to note that insulin has two functions:
    • The first is metabolic – insulin takes up blood glucose and lowers blood sugar
    • The second is cell growth – Insulin also drives cell division and can promote coronary artery muscle division to drive heart attacks and promote breast glandular cell division to develop cancer. 
  • Dr. Lustig states that it’s not just glucose but fructose (like high fructose corn syrup) that accelerates metabolic disease and insulin resistance. Fructose goes to the brain and negatively affects cognitive and behavioral health. There’s a wealth of research and evidence on how food affects the brain and the use of sugar-free diets (ketogenic) to treat conditions like bipolar disorder, depression and schizophrenia.

So, what did I learn from this? First, get some baseline data on liver, fasting glucose and insulin levels as Dr. Lustig recommends so you know where you stand today.  Second, eat a whole-foods, non-processed diet with plenty of pesticide-free vegetables and fruits and clean, grass-fed meat. Dr. Lustig follows his own advice – he and his family used to go out twice a week for meals but given that you really don’t know what you are being served at most restaurants, he has cut back his meal outings to just once a month.

Want to learn more? Check out Metabolical – this book has over a 1,000 references which could not be printed as it would add 70 more printed pages so he made all the references available on the book’s website.

Natural Detox Strategies

Did you know that there are over 15,000 man-made chemicals that are in our environment that our body doesn’t know what to do with? As humans, we have not evolved enough to deal with the bombardment of these toxins from the air, water, ground and the atmostphere. We know that toxins are harmful to our biological function so what to do? Thankfully, there are a number of ways to mitigate the risks even though we may not be able to eliminate them completely. So, in this blog, I’ll share some tips on ways to keep your body optimal so it can repair and detox itself.

Clean Air

You need to note what is going into your body that is contributing to your toxin load. One of the most important is the air you breathe. Did you know that air pollution was linked to a higher risk of dying from COVID-19 in the US? If you’re a city dweller, it’s especially important to prioritize clean air in your living space. You may want to invest in an air filter for the areas where you spend most of your time – at least get one for your bedroom so you have clean air to breathe while you sleep. There are plenty of good air filters to choose from in many price ranges. Here are several to consider:

Clean Water

Even if you get tested city water where you live, the drinking water can be contaminated with disease-carrying organisms and toxins leaking into your water source from run-offs from industrial plants, factory farms and even fracking. You can search for the quality of your water in the EWG’s tap water database. Put in your zip code and it will show you which chemicals are above acceptable levels. You can also request a report from your water source on the quality of the tap – keep in mind that only certain contaminants are tested so you won’t actually know what’s in there. So, if you’re not up to solving a mystery, how about opting for a whole house filtration system if the quality of your water source is not up to par? If you cannot afford a whole house filter, invest in a reverse osmosis filter system to put under your sink for drinking/cooking and a shower filter to minimize contact with your skin. Here’s what I use:

Sweat

When you sweat, your skin’s pores open up to eliminate toxins including heavy metals and foreign chemical substances. As your body’s largest organ, the skin can flush wastes out through sweat thereby putting less burden on other organs like the liver, intestines and kidneys. So get a good workout and work up a good sweat. If you are like me and don’t sweat easily (nor want to do a lot of strenuous exercise to get there), you may want to look into a sauna. I like infrared saunas as they don’t require any special hook-up in your home. The infrared saunas use electric and infrared light to create heat waves which are absorbed by your skin. They only go up to about 150 degrees but they do a great job of penetrating through your skin to get you sweating like a pig in no time!

There are many infrared saunas out in the market today – they used to be very expensive but now they have ones for every budget. Alternatively, if you don’t want to spend a lot of money, try one of the sauna blankets – this one got top ratings on Amazon.

Here’s the one I have at home – it’s an investment but it will last at least a decade with proper use.

Clean Food

Eat Organic – Organic food has more nutrients and are rich with natural antioxidants and disease fighting chemicals. If you have your own garden, you are well on your way to feeding your body with optimal nutrtion. If you cannot afford all organic, how about avoiding these dirty dozen that are the most pesticide laden?

Avoid GMOs – Many grains, grain by-products and produce are genetically modified, so always look for the “Non-GMO” label when purchasing. Here are the most prevalent genetically modified products: Soy, Corn, Canola Oil, Mik, Sugar, Zucchini, Yello Squash, Papaya

Grass-Fed or Wild Meat – Grass-fed and wild-caught meat get their diet from natural sources (not corn and other foods that these animals are not meant to eat) and as a result, have a favorable profile of nutrients and essential fatty acids. Same goes for fish – opt for fish choices like wild salmon to minimize contamination over farmed salmon.

Natural Sweeteners – Did you know that artificial sweeteners like aspartame can disrupt the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar and actually promote obesity by altering the function of the bacteria that’s in your gut?  With most people trying to lose weight rather than gain, this sounds like a bad idea. But you don’t have to give up the sweets – just stick to natural sweeteners like stevia, monk fruit, allulose and erythritol. They even make tasty sodas from these sweeneters. Here’s the one I drink when I’m craving soda.

Minimize Gluten – Gluten has been linked to intestinal and neurological disorders but it’s in almost everything we eat – bread, pizza, bagels, baked products. Wheat flour being grown today has been hybridized to maximize gluten content to satisfy western tastebuds. Steer clear of gluten if possible – if you are eating out/traveling and find it impossible to avoid, take some digestive enzymes with your meal. Here’s one to have handy.

Artificial Colors and Additives – Did you know that according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), there are more than 10,000 additivies that are allowed in food? It’s mind boggling what you need to know to avoid as these additives are linked to chronic health issues.  For example, studies have shown a correlation between consumption of artificial food coloring and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children. There has been controversy on the safety of these artificial colors so it’s best to avoid them even if they are considered ‘safe’. The most common ones to look for are Blue No. 1, Yellow No. 5, and Yellow No. 6.

Here’s the dirty dozen of food additives you want to steer clear of.

Sleep

Your body powers down at night so it can get to work on cleaning up all the waste that’s been accumulated in your body and brain throughout the day. So, make sure you are getting adequate and proper shut-eye.

Minimize EMF

Were you aware that EMF radiation can negatively impact sleep quality as it reduces the amount of melatonin your body produces at night? So keep that cell phone powered down and away from your bedroom. If you need a device (iPad) to wind down at night like me, download the podcasts and episodes and watch them on airplane mode. I’ve got to have my nightly podcast but with the app, it’s easy to download all the sleepy material to put me under. 

Avoid Plastics

Plastics are not only littering our oceans and harming sea life, they’re harmful to our health, too. A commonly-used plastic additive called Bisphenol A is a known endocrine disruptor leading to hormone dependent cancers and metabolic disorders. Switch to glass (Pyrex is heat and crack-resistant) and or metal containers and bottles. They retain the thermal quality of the food/drink WITHOUT chemical plasticizers and other additives. 

Avoid Chemicals in Cosmetic and Personal Care Products

Were you aware that most personal care and cosmetic products sold in the US are not regulated by the FDA and do not require safety testing of ingredients as they are ‘generally regarded as safe’? There may be dangerous chemicals lurking in your makeup and personal care product so you need to take charge of what you’re putting on your skin, hair and nails. You can go to the EWG database to look up which products are safe to use. Alternatively, you can use the Redify app to scan any product barcode and determine whether it contains toxic ingredients.

Your Gut & Weight Loss Connection

Have you heard all the buzz lately about the role that your gut microbiome has on your weight? There’s an ever-growing body of research around this with plenty of evidence for the association between gut bacteria and obesity in both infants and adults. In fact, the microbial changes in your gut can be considered a factor involved in obesity development as modifications to the bacteria in the digestive tract can reshape the metabolic profile. So, if that has you thinking about popping bottles of probiotics or even a fecal transplant to lose that extra baggage, read on…

Awesome bacteria

We have many hundreds of different species of bacteria in our gut and while some are harmful and cause illness, most are necessary for human health. They produce vitamins (like vitamin K) and can help your body fight off invaders. They determine how the foods you eat are digested and can promote satiety. So, having a lot of varied, beneficial bacteria is clearly good for you. This study conducted on human twin subjects showed that the obese twin had lower bacterial diversity compared to the non-obese twin.

The bacteria in your gut can even impact how fats from foods are absorbed and stored in the body. I envision these bacteria running around my gut doing aerobics to burn off the dietary fat I consume so it’s not stored in my thighs.

Sharing awesome bacteria

I am definitely not advocating sharing any fecal matter with anybody (unless you absolutely need a transplant) but this research is part of a growing body of evidence that your gut CAN shape your weight. A fecal microbiota transplant, also known as a stool transplant, is the process of transferring fecal bacteria and other microbes from a healthy individual into another individual. FMT is an effective treatment for C. difficile infection. This study showed that the sharing of thin mice fecal matter prevented the development of increased body mass and obesity-related markers in obese mice mates.

So, how do we cultivate awesome bacteria? As Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

  • Fiber

One of the reasons why the whole foods-based approach to eating is recommended is due to its high fiber content. So, it should come as no surprise that studies are showing that people eating a high fiber diet have lower weight. This is not just due to the fact that fiber lowers insulin levels and promotes satiety but also the role that the gut bacteria has in digesting that fiber. This review shows how fermentation of dietary fiber by gut microbiota leads to the production of short-chain fatty acids (butyrate, propionate and acetate) which suppresses inflammation, carcinogenesis and maintains a healthy balance of the digestive tract.

Remember, processed food = no good fiber (cardboard has fiber but your gut won’t process it)

Whole food = good fiber

Eating a diet rich in high-fiber vegetables and fruits will keep the bacteria in your GI tract busy and happy and help you achieve a thin-person gut microbiome. 

If you feel like you need some help as no one has a perfect diet, you can try supplementing with probiotics. There are numerous studies done on various strains of probiotics and its impact on weight loss. Here are a couple for you to check out:

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24299712/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25473159/

Strains containing Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus have the most evidence for assisting with weight loss – here are ones that have been independently tested for strength and quality:

Lactobacillus:

Bifidobacterium:

  • Flavonoids

Did you know that your gut likes to digest antioxidants commonly found in plants called flavonoids? And that studies have shown that flavonoids can prevent weight gain? Flavonoids are a class of compounds (with six different subtypes) that are rich in antioxidant activity to help ward off inflammation, rid toxins and keep you svelte.

Here is a list of foods rich in flavonoids:
  • Fruits – apples, all berries, peaches, grapefruit, lemons, limes, red and purple grapes
  • Vegetables – broccoli, kale, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, scallions, celery, red peppers
  • Herbs/tea – chamomile, parsley, peppermint, white/green/oolong/black tea
  • And don’t forget dark chocolate!

Magic Pills for Weight Loss?

If you are like many Americans that are always on a ‘diet’ or hoping to lose the muffin-top, you may have tried many strategies and ‘potions’ that are on the market today. The weight loss market is a HUGE (no pun intended) industry and rife with all kinds of get-thin-quick scams and beautiful before and after photos and videos of successful losers. Don’t fall for the hype – you didn’t gain the weight overnight so why would it disappear as quickly? There are also a lot of weight loss supplements with proven claims of weight/fat loss – most are modest and usually funded by the supplement manufacturers.

Cutting carbs and processed foods, eating whole foods which have low sugar and high fiber (clean veggies, fruit and protein), good sleep, adequate exercise and a healthy mind are still the keys to a successful weight loss effort.

If all this sounds overwhelming, Iet’s focus on what we put into our mouths. In this blog, I’ll share some evidence-based ways to boost your weight loss regimen with key ingredients that are available in foods.

 

Berberine

As a pre-diabetic, berberine is part of my daily arsenal in the fight against rising blood sugar and insulin levels. This is technically not a food (I bet it doesn’t taste good) as berberine is an extract found in roots of plants like goldenseal (also called orangeroot or yellow puccoon, a perennial herb in the buttercup family). It has been shown to be as effective as metformin (a diabetes drug) in reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. And it has also been shown to lower total and LDL cholesterol. In this systematic review of studies conducted on the efficacy of berberine, its impact on decreasing lipid and glucose levels and modulating gut bacteria (it can eliminate H. pylori) demonstrated its use in obesity treatment and prevention.

Here are several to try that have been independently tested:

Green Tea (EGCG)

Green tea contains a class of catechins (called EGCG) which is the primary antioxidant and has been shown to reduce body weight in obese subjects by increasing energy expenditure and fat oxidation. This study indicates EGCG’s mechanism of action is by increasing the activity of norepinephrine, a hormone that helps you burn fat.

There are many green tea extracts on the market but I prefer to consume it in whole form – it’s delicious and you derive the same benefit. Here are several brands to try – look for organic if possible and check if it’s been tested for pesticides and contamination:

 

Fiber

Did you know that consumption of dietary fiber is a key predictor of weight loss? This study done on 345 overweight participants showed that fiber intake was the most influential factor in promoting weight loss and dietary adherence.

It’s important to note that both soluble and insoluble fiber are essential:

  • Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel-like material as it passes through your digestive tract so it reduces your body’s ability to absorb fat. It also feeds the healthy bacteria in your gut to improve digestion while lowering inflammation. Good sources include: apples, beans, carrots, and oats. I personally like a form of fiber called inulin which is also considered a prebiotic. It’s available in powder form and I have it in my morning shake. This one come from the agave plant:

  • Insoluble fiber keeps the bowels moving, prevents constipation and can reduce your risk of hemorrhoids and other colorectal conditions. Good sources include: berries, nuts, vegetables (including cauliflower, cabbage, green beans, potatoes), and wheat bran.

Psyllium contains both soluble (80%) and insoluble (20%) fiber and can be used to supplement if you think you’re getting insufficient quantities from your whole foods diet. Here are two that have been independently tested to be free of lead, cadmium and other contaminants:

Glucomannan

Glucomannan is also a form of fiber and found in the roots of the elephant yam – it’s also known as konjac root. It becomes gel-like and absorbs water in your gut to promote a feeling of satiety. This randomized, controlled study conducted on 176 subjects demonstrated that glucomannan fiber added to a healthy diet promoted up to 10 pounds of weight loss over a five week period.

I actually don’t mind the zero taste of konjac root which is sold as shirataki – it comes in noodle and rice forms. It is a bit weird in texture (some describe it as rubbery) so I use the rice to add to soups and mix the noodles with regular spaghetti. Here are several to try:

Shirataki/konjac root is considered low carb, low calorie, gluten-free, Paleo and ketogenic – so if you’re interested in doing more with this miracle food, check out the recipes below:

https://miraclenoodle.com/blogs/recipes

 

Sulforaphane

Did you know that activating a protein called Nrf2 (sounds like nerf ball) in your body will not only increase fat burning but also turn on cells that generate antioxidants and assist with detoxification? And guess what – sulforaphane is a powerful Nrf2 activator. What is sulforaphane? It’s the active compound in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and cabbage that has anti-inflammatory, detoxifying and brain enhancing benefits. And the best part is that you can get them all through the foods you eat.

Broccoli sprouts are considered to have 25X more sulforaphanes than regular broccoli. If you want to supercharge your diet with broccoli sprouts, you can get them at your local store (in small containers) or if you are ambitious, grow your own.

For the green thumbs out there, here are options and instructions to grow your own

https://harpersnurseries.com/how-to-grow-broccoli-sprouts/

If you want to stick to regular broccoli, try steaming or lightly cooking them as it will increase the amount of sulforaphanes your body absorbs by up to 300 percent. And remember to buy fresh broccoli as frozen ones have little to no sulforaphanes left due to processing.

Promoting Weight Loss by Demoting Inflammation

If you are like many Americans that struggle to lose excess weight, there’s comfort in knowing that you are not alone and all the odds are stacked against you. As our hormones decline with age, our food choices, the toxic environment and the sleep-deprived world we live in tell the cells in our body to hold on to the fat for dear life. In this series of blogs on weight, I’ll cover some evidence-based ways on what NOT TO DO and DO to boost weight loss without counting every calorie we eat and every step we take.

I have personally tried just about every diet in the book and realized after many years that it’s not a one-diet-fits-all approach and that some diets will make you feel better where others will not. Because we live in a world full of gourmands and almost infinite food choices, it’s become even more complicated to know what works and what doesn’t. For example, I don’t do well with wheat and dairy but it took me many years of eating the Western diet to figure that out. You probably heard the advice – it’s NOT what you eat but it’s what you DON’T eat that matters.

Inflammation and Weight

Did you know that inflammation in the body can prevent you from losing weight? Chronic inflammation contributes to insulin resistance and obesity regardless of how much you eat. Obesity is also an inflammatory condition that traps you in the cycle of fat gain and resistant weight loss creating a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.

But enough of the bad news. There are ways to promote weight loss without starting a new fad diet or becoming a super athlete. 

Here are some of the inflammatory foods you should consider eliminating from the diet to amp up your body’s fat burning potential:  

Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners like Equal, Sweet-n-Low, and NutraSweet contain saccharin or aspartame and are commonly used in foods and beverages to make them sugar-free. If you think reaching for a diet soda is a good idea because it has zero sugar, did you know that consumption of diet soda is also strongly associated with obesity? Not to mention that some people can develop a sensitivity to these artificial sweeteners creating inflammation and joint pain, headaches, skin rashes and swelling. Just say NO to artificial sweeteners. How about trying stevia or allulose instead?

Here are a few to consider:

Dairy
An estimated 30-50 million Americans are lactose intolerant (where your body lacks the enzyme lactase to break down the lactose sugar). This means that those people should avoid dairy products like milk, cream, cheese, and whey. When you eat what your body cannot handle, stomach discomfort, bloating, cramping, gas, diarrhea/constipation is the inflammatory response. Popping a Lactaid pill to have that slice of pizza or scoop of ice cream is not the answer. If you want to reduce inflammation, listen to your body and avoid products it doesn’t like. Of course, it’s easier said than done. I love ice cream and pizza and will indulge in them infrequently and only when I’ve been following a clean diet and my body feels optimal. But when I’m trying to lose weight, dairy is OUT.

Excess Alcohol
Did you know that drinking too much alcohol not only damages your liver but can permanently change your gut microbiota contributing to alcohol-induced oxidative stress, intestinal permeability to bacteria and other diseases? This study demonstrated the well-established link that excess alcohol can have on the composition of gut microbiota.

Food Allergies
You may be genetically programmed to tolerate less foods than your sibling/parent so it’s important to know how YOU respond to foods. Inability to tolerate the foods you eat will generate chronic inflammation in the body and make it difficult to lose weight. Common allergenic foods include corn, dairy, eggs, nuts, wheat and soy. Consider working with a nutritionist to try an elimination diet to see if any of these foods impact you. Or you can try it at home by eliminating most of the common allergenic foods. Have you heard of the Whole 30 program? Check it out – you may want to try it to see how much weight you lose after 30 days of eating clean. 

Foods containing sugar and processed carbohydrates
Sugar is in almost everything and it’s almost impossible to avoid when you’re eating out. Did you know that sugar (in various forms) triggers the release of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) which increases oxidative stress and inflammation and damages mitochondrial, skeletal, muscle and brain function? This study suggests the need to limit added sugar to reduce inflammation and prevent the development of metabolic and related diseases. Also, enriched bread, cereals, crackers, pastries, cakes and cookies have low nutrient density and fiber content but high glucose spiking potential that lead to an inflammatory state and insulin resistance. As good as it tastes going down, the advance glycation end products (AGEs) generated from eating these foods is your body’s way of telling you to STOP.

Fried Food
French fries, doughnuts, chips, tortillas, and fried chicken are staples of the Western diet. The vegetable oils used to fry these foods are high in omega-6 fatty acids which creates an imbalance with the essential omega-3 fatty acids, leading to inflammatory and autoimmune conditions. To add insult to injury, foods cooked in high temperatures generate a compound called acrylamide which is anticipated to have human carcinogenic effects. Here’s a recipe for Air Fryer French Fries – if you don’t own an air-fryer, you can oven-fry them instead.

Gluten
Gluten is a general name for proteins found in wheat, rye, spelt, and barley, and acts like a glue to help maintain its shape and provide a chewy texture. Gluten is predominant in wheat products like bread, baked goods, pasta, pizza dough and cereals but can also be found in soups, sauces and salad dressings. If you have sensitivity to gluten, your body will see it as a foreign pathogen triggering an inflammatory response. This study shows how the consumption of wheat and cereal grains can contribute to the manifestation of chronic inflammation and autoimmune diseases by promoting intestinal permeability and a pro-inflammatory immune response.

Processed Meats
If you eat a low-carb diet with animal/sea protein, stay away from deli meat, hot dogs, smoked, cured and other processed foods. These foods stimulate the creation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) which in turn generates inflammation in the body. AGEs are implicated in the progression of many diseases including diabetes and atherosclerosis.

Preservatives, Artificial Colors and Flavor Enhancers
These additives designed to increase shelf life, make food look tempting and enhance flavor are unnatural substances thereby promoting inflammation in the body. Here are some common preservatives to watch out for:

  • BHA/BHT
  • Nitrites (nitrates and nitrosamines)
  • Sulfites/sulfur dioxide
  • Sodium benzoate, potassium benzoate, benzene

Many of the artificial colors have been banned by the FDA but there are still some in the market as it’s being reviewed. Check labels carefully and consider shopping at chains like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods where they won’t stock any foods with artificial coloring.

If you are a fan of Chinese food like me, you will notice some restaurants still add MSG (monosodium glutamate) to enhance the flavoring of the food. That’s why that Kung Pao chicken tastes so good! In this study, researchers used MSG to induce obesity. And this study showed that MSG promotes liver inflammation. So next time you go for some Chinese food, make sure it’s MSG free!

Trans Fats
Known as partially-hydrogenated oils, trans fats are inexpensive and highly stable with a desirable taste and texture. Some restaurants and fast food chains still use trans fat for frying foods as it can be used multiple times without changing out the oil. Trans fats are also found in cookies, cakes, crackers, and packaged snack foods. And remember, foods can be labeled as “trans-fat free” if they contain less than 0.5g per serving. So read the ingredient list carefully and if it says ‘partially-hydrogenated oils’, it has trans fats. It is evident that consumption of trans fatty acids is associated with higher levels of inflammatory markers leading to conditions like cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis.

How to Prepare for the COVID Vaccine

With vaccine availability now broadening to more groups, you may be wondering what steps you can take to prepare yourself for the shot(s). In this blog, I’ll describe some do’s and don’ts to consider. It’s important to note that these are not short-term solutions but ways to reach optimal health which will support the vaccine response and also protect you from illness.  

Stay away from processed foods

In this peer-reviewed study conducted by the Environmental Working Group, it’s been shown that a food preservative known as tert-butylhydroquinone (TBHQ), commonly used in packaged foods like Pop-Tarts, Rice Krispies Treats, Cheez-Its and over 1,000 processed foods, has been found to harm the immune system. Unfortunately, chemicals like TBHQ were approved by the FDA decades ago and there has been no re-assessment of the safety of food chemicals. So, it’s “buyer beware” and all the more reason to stay away from processed foods and eat WHOLE.   

Eat an anti-inflammatory diet

Although there is not enough research to support that anti-inflammatory foods can make the COVID vaccine more effective, in general, it’s a good idea to eat a healthy diet. This earlier study found that increased fruit and vegetable intake improved immune function and antibody response to the pneumonia vaccine. Eating whole foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, fish and grass-fed meats with minimal processed foods will generate less inflammation in the body and over the long term, improve immune responsiveness. Also, vegetable oils like corn and soybean oils which are prevalent in processed foods are pro-inflammatory and should be avoided. So, now is a good time to change your habits to “clean eating” to reap the benefits all year long. Here is my earlier blog on some inflammation-fighting super herbs which can be added to your diet.

Cultivate a healthy microbiome

Recent studies suggest that a healthy gut microbiome can increase the immune response to vaccines by modulating immune function and acting as a natural vaccine adjuvant. So to support a diverse and healthy gut microbiome, aim for fiber-rich and fermented foods that will encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria. Greens, cruciferous vegetables, yogurts, kefir, kimchee, sauerkraut and kombucha are great options and should be eaten regularly. 

Reduce alcohol and get proper hydration

As good as alcohol may taste going down, in excess, it leads not only to dehydration but a hangover which could exacerbate your vaccination side effects. Excessive and frequent alcohol consumption can weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to infections. So keep your drinking to a minimum and stick to non-alcoholic beverages the day before. In addition, make sure you have plenty of fluids to keep you internally moisturized for vaccine day.

Get adequate shut-eye

While there are no formal studies done on the COVID vaccine and sleep, it’s no surprise that the quantity and quality of sleep impact your immune system. So a good night’s sleep will help offset fatigue the next day and prepare your immune system for the shot.

Supplements ideal for balancing your immune system include:

  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: These essential fatty acids are known for their anti-inflammatory, immune-modulating and possible antiviral effects and have been recently studied for their impact on COVID-19 prevention and immune dysregulation. I would suggest getting these fatty acids in whole food form (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines are good options) but if you don’t think you are getting enough in your diet nor a fan of oily fish, you can opt for a supplement. Here’s one to try:

  • Vitamin C:  Recent evidence indicates that oral vitamin C (2-8g/day) may reduce the incidence and duration of the respiratory infection. In this study, the use of intravenous vitamin C (6-24g/day) has been shown to reduce mortality and ventilator time and is suggested as the adjunctive therapy for COVID-19. Here are two to try that have been third-party tested:
    • Powder form: https://www.vitacost.com/solaray-vitamin-c-powder
      If you don’t normally take vitamin C, start out with half a teaspoon first and gradually increase to avoid any trips to the bathroom. I prefer the powder form as it is inexpensive and I can dose as I need.
    • Liposomal form: More expensive but easy on the tummy:

  • Vitamin D3: Over the past year, it has been noted that people with low levels of vitamin D were more vulnerable to COVID-19 with higher morbidities. This recent study assessed the role of vitamin D in reducing the risk of COVID-19. Vitamin D is known to reduce the concentration of pro-inflammatory cytokines, increase levels of anti-inflammatory cytokines, enhance the production of natural antimicrobial peptides and activates defensive cells that could destroy COVID-19. Here are several in various dosages:

  • B-complex: A good B-complex can be a part of your arsenal for keeping the immune system healthy and fighting off inflammation. Although studies have not yet been done on COVID-19, this study has shown the influence of the B vitamins (B1,B2,B3,B5,B6 and B12) in lowering proinflammatory cytokines and increasing anti-inflammatory cytokines. Here are a couple to try:

  • Zinc: Commonly used to combat colds, zinc is known to bolster the immune system. In a study conducted in Spain, they found that patients who had higher levels of zinc were more likely to survive COVID-19 than those with lower levels. Here are several verified options:

Regardless of what precautions you take and preparations you make, however, the main thing to remember is that even after you’ve been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, you should keep taking precautions in public places like wearing a mask, staying 6 feet apart from others, and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces until we know more.

Preventing Heart Disease the Functional Medicine Way

I listened to a fascinating series of podcasts called the Longevity Roadmap offered by Dr. Mark Hyman and his Ultrawellness Center. In one episode, a group of specialists provided a short summary on the causes of cardiovascular disease, how to identify the root cause, adequate testing and ways to protect and support the heart using functional medicine approaches. Here are the highlights:

  • The endothelial system lines the inside of every blood vessel in the body and the one cell thick layer called the endothelium is found in the inner walls of our arteries. The proper function of the endothelial system is intimately tied to our health – it delivers oxygen and removes waste. It needs to be able to relax to allow blood to get to all the different tissues in the body. If it doesn’t relax, blood pressure will go up and inflammation of the system leads to cardiovascular disease (CVD). Oxidative stress can damage the endothelial layer and abdominal visceral fat is an inflammatory trigger for damage. For example, in men, this can cause higher erectile dysfunction. To improve endothelial function, foods rich in anthocyanins like blueberries should be consumed. It has been shown that two cups of blueberries over four weeks helped drop systolic blood pressure as much as regular meditation practice.

  • The misconception is that CVD is about cholesterol – it’s actually about inflammation and they explain why cholesterol has gotten a bad rap.
    • Cholesterol is not water soluble so it needs to be carried around by lipoproteins which include low-density lipoproteins (LDL which carries cholesterol from the liver to parts of the body) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL which carries cholesterol from peripheral parts of the body back to the liver for disposal). 
    • Cholesterol has an affinity for inflammation so if the endothelial lining of the blood vessel wall is inflamed, that creates an opening in the protective lining. The LDL cholesterol then attaches to the inflamed blood vessel and gets underneath the lining and begins to accumulate, eventually turning into plaque. This plaque will restrict blood flow, eventually leading to ischemic heart disease. And when the plaque cracks, it causes the blood clot to fill up the remaining space in the blood vessel leading to a heart attack.

  • What causes inflammation?
    • Processed refined foods with sugar, salt and fake fat and vegetable oils all become inflammatory when consumed. 
    • Leaky gut and leaky mouth can cause inflammation in the brain and cause heart disease so the oral and gut microbiome should be examined. There are tests now available to examine the status of both microbiomes.

  • CVD is not a statin deficiency disease. It’s inflammation, oxidative stress, insulin resistance, hormonal imbalance, toxins, bad diet, lack of exercise and nutritional deficiency that lead to high cholesterol and CVD. Up to 90% of all CVD can be prevented with lifestyle measures like proper diet, exercise, no smoking, reduced stress and sleep optimization.

  • Statins have a role in CVD but for primary prevention, it’s not optimal. They can have side effects including destruction of mitochondria which is critical for energy function. If you require a statin, it’s important to take CoQ10 (an antioxidant nutrient) as statins block CoQ10 which is vital for antioxidant and mitochondrial functions.

  • CVD is the leading cause of death in the US and two-thirds of it is related to our diet and lifestyle. According to Dr. Hyman, the central feature of all age-related disease is insulin resistance. And since we consume around 150 pounds of sugar and 133 pounds of flour per person every year in the US, it makes up 60% of our calories which causes insulin resistance. Only 12% of the US population are metabolically healthy versus the 88% who are unhealthy including 75% of those that are overweight. Even 20-40% of those that are normal weight are also metabolically unhealthy – and these ‘skinny’ fat people are at equal risk for heart disease.

  • The biggest risk factors for those getting very ill or dying from COVID-19 are being overweight with high blood pressure, glucose, insulin resistance and high cholesterol.

  • By decreasing insulin resistance, you can make the small dense LDL particles bigger and fluffier which makes it less athrogenic and plaque inducing. If your LCL cholesterol number is high, you can ask your physician to run an NMR lipid profile test to look at particle size and quantity. The NMR lipid profile determines the actual molecular structure of lipoproteins in your bloodstream and is a more important marker of heart disease than just HDL, LDL or total cholesterol. For LDL, you want a low particle number and a big fluffy size. For HDL, you want them to be big as they collect cholesterol from the body and take it to the liver to be disposed of. So big HDL is like having big dump trucks. You also want to know if you are one of 250 people who have familial hypercholesterolemia, a genetic variation that prevents the body from getting rid of LDL easily, as this condition significantly increases your risk of heart disease. 

  • Some dietary ways to improve cholesterol include:
    • Plant-based foods and proteins like legumes, nuts and seeds. For example, an ounce of nuts 5X a week can improve cholesterol and lower inflammation. Look for organic raw nuts and keep them in the freezer to prevent the good nut oils from oxidizing.
    • B3 (niacin) vitamin can have a positive impact on cholesterol and has been shown to lower triglycerides, lower LDL and raise HDL. Make sure to work with a provider as this vitamin causes uncomfortable hot flushes.
    • Fish oil has been shown to lower triglycerides, LDL and raise HDL. In a study, eating 1 gram of fish oil per day decreased heart risk if you ate less than 1.5 servings of oily fish per week. If you eat more servings of fish, you may not need to supplement. Wild caught salmon, sardines, anchovies and mackerel are good choices.
    • Flaxseeds are also recommended for their omega 3 and fiber content. You can add two tablespoons to your morning shake.  

  • Insulin resistance is the number one cause of CVD and happens when our body has to produce a lot more insulin to get the food into our cells. Even though insulin levels are high, the body becomes resistant and the food and nutrients don’t get into the cells. This results in weight gain around the belly which is the inflammatory visceral fat leading to CVD, stroke, dementia and even cancer. It’s critical to keep insulin levels normal – even though the standard Quest Diagnostics measure considers insulin NORMAL if less than 19.6, it’s worth bearing in mind that this average is based on the entire US population, most of whom are overweight.

  • Here are functional medicine parameters to indicate inflammation and metabolic syndrome which are markers for heart disease:
    • Optimal fasting insulin is less than 5. If you have insulin in the 7-12 range, you are pre-diabetic or have metabolic syndrome.
    • Greater than 0.8 waist to hip ratio for women or 0.9 for men is also a sign of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. 
    • High blood pressure is also a clue.
    • If HDL is too low – less than 50 for women, 40 for men and if triglycerides are too high (>150), it’s a signal.
    • Glucose of >100 is a sign of pre-diabetes and if higher than 125, signaling type 2 diabetes.
    • High C-reactive protein (higher than 1mg/l) and homocysteine numbers (higher than 7 micromol/L) are also markers of inflammation.

  • If you have a poor diet, sleep habits and your stress and nutrient levels are off, you should focus on these – there are those with a genetic profile that won’t respond to these parameters but for most of us, it will prevent CVD.

  • It’s important to remember that it’s not a “one size fits all” approach and functional medicine science is personalized to your health. Working on getting the right data with proper testing along with food and diet, exercise, stress management techniques and proper sleep with appropriate supplementations should be of priority.   

There was a very large European study done that showed that following a protocol of no smoking, exercising 3.5 hours a week, healthy eating and maintaining a healthy weight prevented 93% of diabetes, 81% of heart disease, 50% of strokes and 36% of all cancers.  No medicine in the world can do this today! Lifestyle changes and addressing root causes is important and can reverse CVD with miraculous results.

Dr Hyman’s Longevity Roadmap 8-part series is offered here.

Kicking off the New Year With Intent – Diet and Exercise

I’m sure many of us are happy to say goodbye to 2020 and have plans to kick off the new year with resolutions, lifestyle changes and programs to improve our well-being. I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions as I always break them so I prefer to make small changes as I go. So in this blog, I’m providing some simple tips and guidelines on diet and exercise that you could consider and easily adopt as part of your new lifestyle in 2021.

Diet

It’s often easier to add something to a diet than to eliminate something completely. So, here are some suggestions on what to add to your diet to improve your overall well-being when it comes to eating.

  • Fat – Opt for healthy fats like olives, avocados, flax seeds, MCT oil and fat from pasture-raised meats and wild-caught small fish
  • Fruit – Stick with low-glycemic fruits like berries and grapefruit and eat them whole with the fiber, not in juice form
  • Non-starchy veggies, cruciferous vegetables and mushrooms – Kale, Swiss chard, lettuces, fennel, leeks, cucumbers, radishes, onions, garlic, broccoli, cauliflower, shiitake, button and portobello mushrooms
  • Nuts – Almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds. Read my blog on nuts.
  • Protein – For plant protein, beans are a great option. Check out my blog here. For animal protein, opt for wild-caught, grass-fed and/or pasture-raised. Fatty fish like wild salmon, sardines, mackerel, and anchovies are great for their omega-3 content. And remember the “condi-meat rule” – small portions are all you need. 
  • Seeds – Black cumin, hemp seed, flax seed, pumpkin seed, sesame seed. Check out my blog on seeds here.

Now here’s what to limit or avoid:

  • Dairy – Avoid conventionally-raised dairy that includes milk, butter, yogurt, ice cream. If you are sensitive to dairy, it’s best to avoid or limit consumption. Many of us are lactose intolerant and that’s our body’s way of telling us to NOT eat it. I think it’s funny that Lactaid is so popular. We still insist on eating something that our bodies are telling us otherwise. I will occasionally indulge in ice cream and rich dairy products with Lactaid knowing that I am creating inflammation in the body – but infrequently, I think it’s ok.
  • Gluten can be tolerated by some people based on their genetic profile but not others – so if you’re like me and cannot process gluten, limit foods like wheat, rye, and barley to avoid inflammation caused by these proteins.
  • Refined grains, processed foods If its shelf life is for months/years and it comes out of a bag or box and has ingredients that you cannot comprehend (or pronounce), just don’t eat it!
  • Sugar of all types including high fructose corn syrup, sugar alcohols, cane sugar, aspartame and artificial sweeteners. And that includes not only drinks but in dressings, dried fruits and even frozen foods. Real maple syrup and sustainably-raised honey are good in moderation – but remember, just because it’s natural doesn’t mean you should eat a LOT of it.

Exercise

If you’re planning to add more movement and strength training in the new year, adding variety to spice up your workouts will create sustainability and fun to your new lifestyle. Here are some options to add to your training program:

  • High Intensity Interval Training – There is compelling research that shows that high intensity interval training (short bursts of high intensity exercise) provides significant health benefits like boosting your body’s production of fat-busting enzymes, human growth hormone, while improving insulin sensitivity and blood sugar regulation. This is one of the most efficient and effective forms of exercise and it can be done in under 20 minutes. Here’s one to try.
  • Hiking – If you are a fan of the outdoors, hiking is a fun activity that can make your body work harder as you navigate through the different terrains and long distances.  Here is a map of all the trails in the US. Just enter the city and state where you are interested in hiking and all the trails will come up.
  • Jump Rope – Jump roping is inexpensive and one of the most effective cardio exercises you can do. It’s quick and challenges your endurance and your hand-eye coordination. And you only need 10 minutes to get started! Check out this video.
  • Rowing – If you’re in search of a low intensity workout that is a calorie crusher, try a rowing class. It’s a low impact exercise that engages the core muscles on your legs, glutes and lower back without beating up your joints. If you’re looking for something a bit more pedestrian try paddle boarding or kayaking.
  • Swimming – This is considered the king of all exercises because it works every muscle in your body and builds strength, endurance and cardiovascular fitness. Also, it’s fantastic for those with excess weight and/or joint problems. Look for your local Y or a fitness center that has a lap pool so you can get in 30 minutes of swim time.
  • Treadmill – How about walking or running on the treadmill on a virtual trail with rivers and waterfalls? Try this video to simulate being outside enjoying nature. It’s a 45 minute virtual walk.
  • Yoga – There are many health benefits of practicing yoga like strength, balance, flexibility and stress reduction but did you know that research indicates that yoga can provide similar benefits as other moderate to vigorous exercises? Yoga was found to be superior to other forms of exercise for improving self-reported outcomes on aerobic fitness, muscular strength and health status on older adults. It’s also been found to benefit those who are already aerobically strong as yoga strengthened the running performance of distance runners. Similarly, yoga performed for 8 weeks led to improved balance, leg strength and muscle control in young athletes. Need we say more? If you want to do yoga but don’t want to pay for a class, try the Yoga with Adriene series. There’s something for everyone on this site.

5 Surprising Superfoods to Fight Diabetes

I hope you’ve read my earlier blogs on superfoods to fight diabetes/pre-diabetes. It’s good to know that there are many options out there to establish a healthy eating plan to control blood sugar/insulin and manage weight. Here are five more ordinary superfoods that are extraordinary for staving off/managing Types 2 diabetes. And even if you are not a pre-diabetic/diabetic, you can easily incorporate these key elements into your daily diet for a healthy lifestyle.

Dark Chocolate

Good news if you are a chocolate fan! Did you know that consumption of dark chocolate which is rich in flavonoids can improve your mood and add antioxidants while providing you with a satisfying and appetite-suppressing treat? In a recent study, parameters of lipid and glucose metabolism (cholesterol, LDL, triglycerides, waist circumference) improved after six months of daily intake of dark chocolate. Cocoa, the key ingredient in chocolate, contains antioxidant flavonoids which means they can reduce inflammation, keep arteries healthy and fight aging by preventing cellular damage. Comparatively, dark chocolate has more antioxidant capacity, polyphenols and flavonoids than any other fruit tested including blueberries and acai berries. 

But before you go running to the candy aisle, remember that dark chocolate should be 70% cocoa or higher and when possible, opt for sugar-free versions. Here are my sugar-free favorites – I always stock these and have them handy when I need a ‘treat’ or to fix a sweet craving. 

Garlic and Onions

Garlic and onions contain the key component allicin, a sulfur compound that gives the strong odor, taste and teary eyes. Allicin is known for its antibacterial, antiviral, anti-fungal and antioxidant properties. Onions also contain the antioxidant quercetin to fend off allergies, reduce inflammation and even fight cancer.

Traditionally, vegetables in the allium family have been recommended for heart disease and stroke (i.e. high cholesterol and blood pressure), but these superfoods are also noted to affect the insulin signaling pathway of diabetes. That means it can have a profound effect on lowering blood sugar, reducing triglycerides, improving insulin sensitivity and the circulatory and digestive system.

This study showed the effect of garlic on reducing the lipid profile and glucose parameters in patients with diabetes, while this study showed that the consumption of onion improved glucose and insulin resistance in breast cancer patients.

If you want to maximize the nutrient content with allium vegetables but don’t want to chase away vampires or people, how about trying some fermented black garlic? The fermentation process changes the taste of garlic (makes it sweeter) but also increases the nutrients and makes them more bioavailable. I remember over 20 years ago when my parents were given a gift of a jar of fermented black garlic for health and wellness and couldn’t figure out why someone would ‘gift’ this. If I knew then what I know now…

Here are several to try:

For cooking and eating with meals:

If you prefer to supplement:

Matcha Green Tea

Besides water, tea is the number one popular drink around the world, and green tea is well known as a health-conscious choice with diabetes prevention as one of the inherent benefits. If you like green tea, consider the Japanese matcha green tea. Matcha is a more concentrated form of green tea and has:

  • 3-10X more antioxidants than green tea (depending on the quality of tea) and up to 30X more antioxidant activity than blueberries.
  • 2X the amount of catechins (EGCG) which have been shown to have a positive impact on weight loss (body weight, BMI, LDL cholesterol).
  • 10X the amount of polyphenols which reduce oxidative stress and relax blood vessels which lower blood pressure thereby reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
  • 10X the amount of L-theanine, an amino acid which promotes a calming effect
  • Vitamin C, B-Complex, and zinc for immune support
  • Chlorophyll to oxygenate your blood and revitalize cells, improving detoxification and weight control

This study shows that consuming matcha daily can enhance fat oxidation and thermogenesis.

Studies have been published on the benefits of green tea for control of diabetic parameters.

Here are several brands to try – look for organic if possible and check if it’s been tested for pesticides and contamination:

Seaweed

If you are a fan of sushi rolls with nori (seaweed), you’re in luck. Seaweed is a rich source of protein and is very low in calories. If you are vegetarian or vegan, seaweed has enough protein and minerals to replace meat and fish. Seaweed is heart healthy with vitamins (including K, B9/folate) to reduce homocysteine levels and prevent calcium build-up in the body. It also contains fiber, natural iodine (for healthy thyroid function) and a carotenoid compound with antioxidant effects called fucoxanthin to help the body burn fat. This study showed that seaweed consumption lowered glucose and insulin response with a carbohydrate meal. 

You can find nori sheets at almost any supermarket nowadays. Have you tried making your own California rolls? Here is the brand I buy and a sushi bamboo roller if you want to DIY. 

Red Wine

If you love wine like me, good news! A glass of red wine a day can actually help keep blood sugar levels under control, along with a healthy, low glycemic diet. Red wine contains polyphenols from the grape skins that helps modulate peaks and valleys in glucose levels.

This study showed that moderate red wine consumption significantly lowered blood pressure levels and increased good cholesterol (HDL) levels in people with diabetes. This study supports the beneficial effect of polyphenols on insulin resistance and on cardiovascular risk factors.  Remember, this applies to moderate wine drinking – which means one glass (5 oz.) for women and no more than two for men. If you are like me and cannot just have one glass, forgo the alcohol altogether (which I had to do) and opt for other superfood choices.