Let them eat cake? Merci, Non!

I listened to another great podcast featuring Dr. Steven Gundry, a renowned cardiothoracic surgeon and New York Times bestselling author of The Plant Paradox and Plant Paradox Cookbook

Dr. Gundry explains what sugar is, why it’s harmful and some options for substituting it.  

Here are the highlights:

  • The average American eats around 153 pounds of sugar a year which is the size of a baby giraffe!
  • There are multiple forms of sugar: glucose, fructose, lactose are all sugar molecules.
  • Table sugar is sucrose which is 50% glucose and 50% fructose.
  • High fructose corn syrups are ~45% glucose and 55% fructose.
  • Many studies have been conducted indicating that fructose is worse than glucose and is the culprit in causing a fatty liver and elevated cholesterol levels. Bottom line: Sugar is sugar is sugar.
  • Most people do not realize the effect that sugar has on the gut microbiome. Bad bacteria and fungal species like candida yeast thrive on sugar. Good bacteria prefer complex sugar molecules with fiber as it’s easier to ferment.
  • Gundry believes that rationing sugar and flour during WWII was one of the reasons why diabetes and heart disease plummeted around the world during that period.
  • When you grind up whole products like wheat into flour, your body more readily absorbs them; that is why the glycemic index of white flour (85) is higher than white table sugar (58)!
  • Sugar takes a toll on our immune system. Research conducted by Linus Pauling, a two-time Nobel Laureate showed that any type of sugar consumption (including orange juice) suppresses white blood cell function by 70% for up to 6 hours.
  • Everyone knows about the dangers of saturated fat and cholesterol BUT most cholesterol is manufactured in our body. And elevated cholesterol comes from sugar consumption. How? Sugar is converted into the first form of fat which is triglycerides (TG). TG in turn are carried by cholesterol. Hence, the more sugar you eat, the more TG you make and the higher your cholesterol level.
  • Gundry says that TG is one of the most important markers of coronary heart disease. And NO – having TG levels of 150 is NOT normal contrary to what the lab reference ranges indicate. You need TG levels of 40-50 to be optimal. Go get your TG checked!
  • Sugar is an incredibly addictive substance: Did you know that rats will choose sugar over cocaine if given a choice?
  • Why is getting off sugar so difficult? Because two-thirds of the human tongue’s surface is dedicated to tasting sweets and this was for survival reasons – to gain weight in the summer to store fat for the winter.
  • Gundry is not a fan of fruit either – modern fruit has been hybridized to be bigger and sweeter. And now fruit is available 365 days a year when it is meant to be eaten only in season
  • If you are eating fruit out of season, he recommends “reverse juicing”: buy organic fruit, juice it and throw away the juice! Just eat the pulp which has fiber and rich polyphenols and nutrients. You can mix the pulp in yogurts or put it in shakes.
  • Sugar is hiding everywhere – brown rice syrup, glucose, fructose, agave are all other words for sugar, so don’t be fooled by what’s on the label.
  • Here’s a shocking metric to see how much sugar you may be consuming in a serving:
    • Take the total carbohydrates per serving and subtract the fiber = number of net carbohydrates
    • 1 tsp of sugar has 4 grams of carbs
    • So a slice of bread with 21 grams of carbs and 5 grams of fiber (16g net) is like eating 4 tsps of table sugar! Making a sandwich? That’s 8 tsps!
  • It is best to retreat from sweets – sugar is hidden in products that don’t even taste sweet.
  • Here’s the skinny on sugar alternatives and why Dr. Gundry says you can have your cake and eat it too:
    • Sucralose (Splenda) is a must avoid. A study conducted at Duke University showed that one packet of Splenda killed 50% of the gut microbiome (the good kind)
    • Honey, coconut sugar, agave are all sugars. If substituting with honey, have only several teaspoons a day – and stick to local or Manuka honey
    • Allulose, monk fruit and stevia are good sweetener alternatives that do not spike glucose.
    • Allulose also contain prebiotic fiber which feeds the gut. Look for non-GMO allulose at the market or online.
    • Stevia is a good substitute but has some bitterness. You can try the Sweet Leaf brand Stevia which is blended with inulin (the sugar in chicory and a great prebiotic).
    • Yacon syrup is another option but has been known to raise triglyceride levels so best not to consume much

What I took away from this podcast? Remember Marie Antoinette’s famous quote: “If the people have no bread, let them eat cake”? I say neither!

Here is the podcast:

https://drgundry.com/healthy-sugar-alternatives/

Let Food Be Thy Medicine – What I Eat (Part 2)

As I mentioned in Part 1 of my blog, I try to live by Hippocrates’ famous quote: ‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food’. In the busy world we live in, all of this takes advance planning. Although I am known as the ultimate planner, I often use up all my planning points for work and family so I have to keep things simple when it comes to meals.

Here are some dinner ideas that are part of my regimen.

Dinner at Home

My dinner menus are on the simple side and rarely contain more than 8 ingredients. I know that spices are some of the best additives to create a superfood meal but I am pretty lazy so don’t work with many – probably on my list to improve!

Tofu Steaks

Here is my sister’s recipe for Asian-style tofu steaks. It’s a great meatless dinner option and delicious with a side salad.

  • 1 lb extra firm tofu
  • 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce (if using regular soy sauce, reduce to 1/8 cup)
  • 2 TBSP sesame oil
  • 2 cloves garlic chopped
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger
  • 1 TBSP honey or maple syrup 
  • 1 TBSP Worcester sauce
  • 2 TBSP lemon juice
  • Black pepper to taste

Cut tofu lengthwise into four equal slabs and put into a baking dish or a bowl. Mix all the other ingredients to make the marinade and pour over tofu and let it sit for 30 minutes. Remove tofu from marinade and fry it in a greased hot pan (olive oil or avocado oil) for about 2-3 mins on each side until browned. Place on serving dish. Then add the marinade to the pan, heat until boiling and pour over the fried tofu steaks. You can garnish with scallions if you’d like.

Simple Salmon

This is so easy I can do it in my sleep. Preheat oven to 475 degrees. To salmon filets, sprinkle some olive oil and salt and add to a heated skillet (make sure it’s oven safe). Cook with skin side up (so it’s easier to flip in the oven) on stovetop for 2 minutes then put skillet in oven and bake 5 minutes per side. It’s crispy on the outside and delicious! Here’s another simple recipe that you may want to try that uses butter: https://www.markbittman.com/recipes-1/roasted-salmon-with-butter

Cod, Sea Bass, Grouper or other white flaky fish

For each pound, make a mixture of 2 tablespoons of miso, 1 tablespoon of maple syrup, dash of garlic powder, juice of half lemon, 2 TBSPs olive oil and some water to dilute. Marinate the fish in the mixture (you can do this overnight if you plan ahead) and throw in oven at 400 degrees for around 15 minutes (this will vary based on size of filet and thickness). If you want to make it a bit richer, you can top it off with a knob of butter towards the end.

Broccoli Salad

Buy bagged broccoli florets in produce aisle as they are similar in size and cook evenly. Steam (5-8 minutes) or boil (3-5 minutes) the broccoli florets, add some garlic powder, minced shallots (or red onion), olive oil, balsamic vinegar, oregano, salt and pepper. Toss together and it can be served warm or cold.

3-Bean Salad

You can use any three beans you like for this. I use chick peas, kidney, northern, limas or whatever I have in the house. To the three cans of beans (15 oz.), add ¼ cup chopped parsley, 1 tsp of oregano, ¼ cup chopped yellow/red pepper, ¼ cup chopped red onion (or green onion) and ¼ cup chopped celery.  Toss with white or red wine vinegar (1/8-1/4 cup), olive oil (1/2 cup) and then add salt to taste. This tastes better the longer it sits so you can make a big batch and have it throughout the week.

Kale Salad

I prefer to chop up my own kale as the bagged ones have too many stems which make it difficult to digest. To one bunch of kale de-stemmed and chopped, add ~¼ cup pomegranate seeds, 1/3 cup olive oil, 2 TBSP red wine vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Massage kale and dressing to release the pomegranate juice and soften the kale. You can top off with ¼ cup nuts (pine, walnut) or some pumpkin seeds.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Another simple dish to add to any protein source. To a bag/pound of brussels sprouts (cut in half and tops cut off), add ¼ cup olive oil, 4 cloves chopped garlic, 1 tsp Rosemary, salt and pepper. Bake in 425 degree oven for about 20-25 minutes until garlic and brussels sprouts are golden brown.

Collard Greens

These are widely available and easy to prepare. Wash one large bunch of collard greens, de-stem and chop into small pieces. In a stockpot,  add ½ cup of bacon or ham bits and cook with just enough water to get it browned. Throw in collard greens, ½ chopped onion, 1-2 cups of water and cook until soft. Add soy sauce to taste and finish off with some apple cider vinegar (~1/8 cup or to taste). We have collard greens in our garden that will NOT die no matter what the weather is or how much we neglect it so are enjoying them year-round.

Stir-Fried Zucchini/Squash or Mushrooms

This is a super easy side dish to add to any meal. Cut zucchini or yellow squash into rings and saute them in a tablespoon of ghee (clarified butter). Add salt to taste. You can do the same with mushrooms – the buttery goodness makes the veggies pop!

Sous Vide Chicken

Have you heard of the term sous vide? In French, it means “under vacuum” and in sous vide cooking, the food is sealed in an airtight container and submerged in a hot water bath. The temperature of the water bath determines the temperature of the food so it’s easy to cook foods without over or under cooking. Chicken is a perfect meat for sous vide as it cooks evenly without turning it into cardboard (especially chicken breasts). You will need to invest in a sous vide cooker which are widely available now.

To several chicken breasts or thighs, add salt, pepper, olive oil and whatever herbs you’d like (Herbs de Provence or Mrs. Dash). Mix well and put them in the sous vide bags. Immerse in water that’s come up to 145 degrees (for chicken). It should be done in around 2 hours but you can keep it on as it will not overcook. I usually start them sometime in the afternoon and it will often sit in the bath for 4 hours before I’m ready to make dinner. Take them out of the sous vide bag, put them on a pan and brown the skins on the broiler to get a nice crust.  Serve with the juice from the sous vide bag as gravy. 

Here’s a simple sous vide to buy.

And I only use re-usable silicone bags to minimize plastic contamination in the food.

Salad Dressing

This is my friend’s staple – she makes them in huge batches and gives them away as gifts in pretty bottles. It stores nicely in the fridge if you make more than you need.

To 2 TBSP of red wine or balsamic vinegar, add 1 TSP of Dijon mustard and ½ TSP salt. Whisk to dissolve the salt. Add 1 clove of finely minced garlic, and 6 TBSP of extra virgin olive oil and mix well. Black pepper can be added to taste. This dressing goes with any type of salad – arugula, spring greens, fennel, cabbage, radicchio, etc.

Dinner Out

  • Try to stay away from heavy sauces as it’s most likely laden with unhealthy fats and sugars (Chinese food is a big culprit). It’s difficult to know what’s in them and it’s likely no one will tell you.

  • It’s important to remember that food diversity is good for our gut. We are not designed to eat the same thing over and over. So when dining out, expand the variety by ordering foods that you wouldn’t normally have at home (especially the plant foods). For me, this includes lots of varieties of veggies and greens, pasta/bread (I rarely make this at home), fish of the day (I have a limited repertoire but restaurants offer more options), sushi, meats like lamb, duck or game. I actually enjoy cooking with game meats like venison but my meat supplier (my husband) hasn’t gone hunting in a while so off to a restaurant I go.    

5 Tips to Starting Off the New Year in a Healthy Fashion

I used to make New Year’s Resolutions every year until I realized that making promises at the beginning of the year which inevitably get broken within 90 days was not a sustainable habit. So, in light of the New Year, I’ll share some things you can do to take control of your health without a calendar to dictate your actions.

Cut the Carbs, Sugar & Bad Fats

One of the first things we can do is control what goes into our mouth. We as a society eat way too many carbs, sugar and bad fats. As you may be aware, chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, cancer and obesity are all tied to our over-reliance on what has become the standard American diet. Have you noticed how having a high-carb/high-sugar meal makes you crave more snacks several hours later? These high-carb foods (breads, cereals, pastas, waffles, pancakes, cookies, cakes, pies) cause blood sugar fluctuations that lead to incessant carb cravings thereafter. So, what to do after weeks of eggnog, wine (of course – alcohol is formed from sugar), grandma’s pumpkin pie and that holiday feast with turkey, stuffing, and mac and cheese?

First, reduce your carb and sugar intake. This does not mean you have to go on a ketogenic diet as moderation is key as you transition from all the holiday festivities.

  • Get most of your carbs from plant-based sources, primarily non-starchy vegetables like greens, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage). You can add some fruit like apples and starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and beets to up your carb intake but the key is to make greens and veggies the mainstay of your daily plate. And no need to count calories – eat until you are satisfied as these veggies are high in fiber and volume and low in calories. Also, eating a naturally fiber-rich diet will help with elimination and keep you ‘regular’.

  • Eliminate bad fats and add good ones.
    • Man-made fats that are hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils like margarine should be avoided like the plague. If nature intended for humans to consume them, they would be naturally available. Also, vegetable oils (corn, soybean, canola, grapeseed, peanut, cottonseed, safflower, sunflower) are HIGHLY processed and READILY oxidized when exposed to light, air or heat. Oxidized or ‘rancid’ oils are NOT healthy for humans so it’s best to avoid them.
    • Healthy fats should be added to the diet – it sounds counter-intuitive for losing weight but healthy fats are necessary building blocks for cell membranes and for keeping hormones in balance. Non-animal sources of fat include avocados, avocado oil, nuts and nut butters, coconut and coconut oil, olives and olive oil. Animal sources include lard, grass-fed butter/ghee, grass-fed/wild-caught/pasture-raised meats and fish. 

Good Health Begins in the Gut

Good health = healthy gut = good intestinal bacteria. The human gut is home to more than 100 trillion micro-organisms and contains 10 times more bacteria than all the human cells in the entire body. Recent studies suggest the role that the gut microbiome plays in regulating the risk of diseases like cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and cancer AND the importance of diet in altering the gut’s microbial composition. So to keep your gut flora healthy:

Manage stress levels as studies have shown that prolonged stress can negatively alter intestinal microbiota composition

Get Moving!

If you don’t have time to exercise, how about starting off with a daily 7-minute workout? This free app called 7M offers exercises for a variety of body parts and they are only 7 minutes long. They have options with weights or without so no need to invest in equipment to get going.

Here are two 7-minute high-intensity interval training workouts to try without downloading the app:

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/well/workouts/

Take Time to Meditate/Reflect

You don’t need a 30-minute meditation or yoga practice to get your mindfulness quotient in. Upon waking, try a 5-minute breathing or meditation exercise. Here are a couple to try:

And before bed, try to reflect on the happenings of the day – what went well and what could be improved. This raises awareness of the positive things achieved in the day along with areas for improvement. Continuous improvement and learning is key to keeping us youthful and vibrant!

Practice Good Sleep Habits

And last but not least, establish a sleep rhythm that works for YOU as we all have different sleep clocks. I have tried to be an early riser (before 6:30am) SO many times but it’s not my optimal sleep clock and ends up making me more tired and run down. Against my better judgment, I woke up REALLY early (5:30am) over Thanksgiving holiday to go walking with my sister – although I got my steps in, I ended up with a head cold which lasted for weeks.

If you are an early morning person, you can do a lot of the important tasks early in the day. But if you’re like me and cannot get going until around 7am after a stiff cup of coffee, you may be more prone to get some productive work done well into the evening.

So, in addition to when you sleep, determine how much sleep you need to feel optimal – some feel fantastic after just six hours but if you’re like me, you will need at least 7-8 hours to survive the next day.

So, how about a New Year’s plan of consistency, moderation and steady improvement to keep you going and going? Happy Holidays!

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.

What To Do To Promote Healthy Weight Loss

In a previous blog on weight loss, I covered the importance of tamping down inflammation so your body loses its resistance to getting rid of that unwanted belly fat. In this blog, I’m highlighting some evidence-based tips on what to do to help you get off the rollercoaster ride of weight loss/weight gain.

Intermittent Fasting

There are no shortage of fad diets and recommendations on losing weight. And all of it looks like the plan for success on ‘paper’. But as you know, different diets work for different folks so most of it is trial and error (I’m speaking from years of experience!) Regardless of which eating plan you’re on to lose weight, intermittent fasting  (IF) is something one can do on ANY diet.  It’s simple and saves you time and money (who doesn’t want that?) So, what is intermittent fasting (IF)? It’s where you eat your meals within a short eating window (around 8-10 hours) and fast for the rest of the day. For example, if you have breakfast at 10am and finish dinner by 7pm and repeat the same schedule the next day, you’ll have fasted for 15 hours. Why is this so great?

  • When you fast, your glycogen stores and insulin levels will drop, which then forces your body to tap into the fat stores for energy.
  • Reducing insulin levels will decrease your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
  • It eliminates the late-night snacking habit which has been associated with weight gain and metabolic dysfunction.

This systematic review of 27 IF trials showed weight loss of 1-13% of body weight without adverse events and has shown promise for the treatment of obesity.

There are some caveats to intermittent fasting – it will not be suitable for those who are pregnant, have eating disorders or athletes with frequent need for calories. So, make sure to check in with your clinician prior to starting IF. Also, it’s been shown that periodically breaking the fasting window with regular eating is a good habit if you would like to sustain this for the long term. For example, if you like to IF during the week, take a break on the weekend with a longer eating period.

Check out my earlier blog on Fasting as a Therapeutic Option for Weight Loss.

Sleep

Did you know that research has shown that sleep deprivation decreases metabolic rate and raises BMI in healthy adults? And since we are a sleep-deprived society with nearly a third of US adults getting less shut-eye than recommended, it’s no wonder we have an obesity epidemic in this country. According to this study, the pathways linking sleep deprivation to weight gain are: increased food intake, decreased energy expenditure, and changes in level of appetite-regulating hormones to reduce leptin (which signals satiety) and elevate ghrelin (which signals hunger).

So, if you want to boost weight loss, aim for a minimum of seven hours of sleep to keep your metabolic rate functioning at its peak.

Strength Training

Did you know that inactive adults lose 3-8% of muscle mass every decade which results in a lower metabolic rate and higher fat storage? It’s important to keep our muscle mass as we age so that we can keep our metabolic rate up to prevent fat accumulation (in all the wrong places). Since muscle is metabolically more active than fat, having more means it burns more calories.

According to this study, 10 weeks of strength training can increase resting metabolic rate by 7% and also assist in the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes by decreasing visceral fat, reducing HbA1c, and improving insulin sensitivity.

So, if you only have 30 minutes to workout, pick a strength training exercise that will also get your heart pumping. Here’s a 20-minute total body strength workout to try:

What to incorporate into your diet

Whether you’re doing a Mediterranean, low carb, vegan/vegetarian or Paleo diet, here are some foods you can incorporate to your eating plan to keep the metabolic rate humming.

Caffeine

If you are a fan of coffee, raise your mug to toast the wonders of caffeine in promoting weight loss:

  • Not only does it taste good, but this systematic review of 13 randomized clinical trials showed that caffeine intake was effective in reducing weight, BMI and fat mass.  
  • The caffeine in coffee stimulates the nervous system to stimulate lipolysis (fat burning) and energy expenditure.
  • Do you know why sports drinks are often loaded with caffeine? Because it’s been shown to reduce fatigue AND increase exercise performance by up to 12%. 

Make sure you don’t imbibe too much or too close to bedtime as it may interfere with your shut-eye (thereby defeating the purpose of using caffeine as a weight-loss promoter).

Capsaicin

Could these spicy compounds found in chili peppers be the answer to obesity? Evidence suggests that the capsaicinoids (compound in chili peppers) offset the impact of calorie restriction by increasing energy expenditure and fat oxidation, while preventing the increase in hunger and decrease in satiety. These effects remove the resistance to fat loss during a weight loss program and facilitate the maintenance of the new ‘setpoint’ after weight loss has been achieved. So sprinkle that hot sauce liberally onto your foods!

Green Tea

Green tea contains some caffeine (not as much as coffee) but the real powerhouse in this drink are the catechin polyphenols (antioxidants) known as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) which has been shown to boost metabolism. Indeed, research has shown that EGCG extract increases fat oxidation and 24-hour energy expenditure due to its thermogenic properties.

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

Protein

The satiating power of protein has been well established in numerous research studies. This study showed that an increase of 15-30% of protein with a constant carbohydrate intake produced a sustained increase in leptin sensitivity (to suppress appetite) resulting in significant weight loss. You can get protein from a variety of sources regardless of your diet. If you are vegan/vegetarian, try the following seven foods for maximum protein:

  • Edamame and lentils (18 grams/cup)
  • Pinto beans and chickpeas (15 grams/cup)
  • Mung beans (14 grams/cup)
  • Fava beans (13 grams/cup)
  • Lima beans (12 grams/cup)

Water

Did you know that drinking water can increase your metabolic rate and help you eat less?

  • Studies done on both lean and overweight subjects showed that water consumption half an hour prior to mealtime reduced their calorie intake during the meal.
  • In this study conducted on overweight children, drinking cold water increased resting energy expenditure by up to 25%. 

So make sure you are getting plenty of CLEAN water in your diet. Even with tap water, it is ideal to filter prior to drinking. Here are some options:

  • Countertop: You want the largest pitcher so you are not constantly filling it.

  • Whole house: If you want clean water throughout the house, you may want to invest in a whole house filtration system. The tap water where I live is not that clean so this is what I put in which is good for 600,000 gallons and easy to maintain with simple filter changes every 3-6 months.

  • If you want to remove just about everything for drinking, you can invest in a reverse-osmosis system which you can install under your kitchen sink. Here is what I have.

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.

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.

Why older adults should practice calisthenics

Cristian Bianchi has been a physical trainer for more than five years. He founded one of the first gyms specialized in calisthenics in Guatemala City, with the objective of offering people an opportunity to forge healthy lifestyles.

He learned about this training method during one of his trips to Europe. It consists of using only the body’s weight during exercise. The goal is to gain control of body mass, without the need for resistance or additional loads.

In 2015, the American College of Sports Medicine (ASCM) indicated that calisthenics is the leading sport in the world. In addition, it said it helps reduce the number of individuals who die from lack of physical activity, which, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), amounts to approximately 3.2 million each year.

For Bianchi, this training is key to reducing that global figure and is far from excluding people because of their age. In 2021 he serves about 120 students in his gym, three of which are senior citizens.

Today he explains five reasons why older people, regardless of their injuries or conditions, should also practice calisthenics.

Maintains body mobility

To help his pupils, Bianchi follows the Best Progress Method (BPM), which establishes demanding routines according to the abilities of the person. The instructor says that older adults often do basic, assisted exercises, such as push-ups, squats, planks, or chin-ups.

According to Bianchi, the first reason that should motivate them to practice calisthenics is that it allows them to maintain body mobility. Through constant exercise, they can get into the habit of staying active. Thus, their muscles are less likely to atrophy and become completely sedentary.

“Usually, conditions don’t let grandparents move around as much. With calisthenics we prevent their muscles from atrophying because they never stop straining,” he says.

Gives more independence

When designing his routines, one of Bianchi’s priorities is to make sure that older adults understand what they will use the movements for in their daily lives. “For example, squats allow them to later get up from a chair. That way they have control over their body and do not always need help,” she says.

In the instructor’s opinion, the second reason derives from that teaching: calisthenics give a sense of independence to those who are older. Exercises expand their possibilities of acting by themselves every day.

In addition, the trainer emphasizes that calisthenics promote mental health, since it improves self-esteem and allows people to feel that they are still capable of achieving their goals.

“When we are old, we may perceive ourselves as less capable, but calisthenics help us maintain the certainty that we can still do things,” he states.

Helps to recover a correct posture

According to Bianchi, the body gets used to living as the usual stimuli demand. He mentions, for example, that people who spend their days in front of the computer can develop spine, back, neck and general posture problems.

“That’s why we hear older people say that their back hurts. They lead a life with bad stimuli,” he explains.

For him, calisthenics are a source of appropriate stimuli that allow the body to be stretched, moved in all directions and to recover a proper posture. In his opinion, this benefit is even more relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic, which demands us to stay in our homes and use digital devices more often.

“In the pandemic many stopped moving as they did before. That is why it’s important to build those healthy habits throughout life,” he considers.

Encourages closer relationships

A 2016 study by Harvard University in the United States says that one of the keys to achieving happiness is to build deep relationships. Bianchi says that calisthenics, in addition to improving physical condition and appearance, helps cultivate bonds between older adults and family and friends.

“It improves the quality of life for everyone. It is not the same to have a grandparent who can travel or walk, as it is to have one who can barely move. If there are more activities that people can do together, the relationship is likely to grow,” he indicates.

Helps to lead by example

One of the concerns of the 21st century is the high exposure of children and adolescents to screens. Research reveals that the amount of time is close to seven hours a day. For Bianchi, older adults should also practice calisthenics to inspire young people to prioritize health and stop focusing so much on the digital world.

“We need to show young people that it has an inclusive approach. When people tell me they cannot practice it, I show them videos of some grandparents training with their grandchildren. And people get engaged and question why they should not practice it if grandparents can,” he says.

Metabolic Dysfunction and How It Can Cause Diabetes and Chronic Diseases

I listened to another fascinating (albeit long) podcast on the Broken Brain series on how out-of-control blood sugar can cause belly fat, brain fog and chronic disease. Dr. Casey Means was the guest and she is a Stanford-trained doctor and associate editor of the International Journal of Disease Reversal and Prevention. Her mission is to reverse the epidemic of preventable chronic disease by empowering individuals with personalized tools (i.e. continuous glucose monitors – CGM) that promote sustainable dietary and lifestyle choices. As a pre-diabetic myself, I have been using some of these tools to monitor how my body responds to my diet and activities of daily living. I was quite shocked at what I learned from a month’s use of a CGM and if this blog speaks to you, it may be something you may want to discuss with your doctor.


Here are the highlights from the podcast:

  • We make energy from converting sugar and fat and this metabolic process is a core fundamental pathway of every cell in the human body. At optimal function, we have good memory, physical health, skin, etc. However, over time when we eat a lot of carbs and sugar and junk food, our cells get numb to the constant insulin release and this forces our body to release even more insulin to get the glucose into our cells. This leads to what is known as ‘insulin resistance’ and metabolic dysfunction eventually causing diseases like Type 2 diabetes.

  • Dr. Means emphasizes that many chronic conditions like Alzheimer’s, fatigue, depression, polycystic ovarian syndrome, high blood pressure or heart disease are all related to metabolic health.

  • We are eating 100X more sugar per person than we did 150 years ago. In the US in the 1850s, Americans ate about 2 pounds of sugar per year vs. 200+ pounds per year we consume today. Our bodies are not designed to process all this sugar so it stores it as fat. In addition, chronic stress, lack of sleep and sedentary lifestyle also translate into mitochondrial cells not functioning well. Today, 88% of Americans are not metabolically healthy and we need to change our behaviors and choices to control this epidemic.

  • If you ask people if they eat healthily, many will say yes (including me) but we don’t know how our body responds to these healthy foods unless we can measure and track it. For example, they did a study with a group of people by giving them oatmeal – considered a healthy food. The glucose levels for some of those that ate oatmeal approached diabetic levels while for others, it didn’t. Everyone responds differently so we need to measure and track individually and not just follow some guideline telling us what’s a healthy food vs. not.

  • Continuous glucose spiking throughout the day generates inflammation and glycation (which promotes aging). The huge insulin surge that accompanies the glucose spike means the glucose will soon crash, drain you of energy and also stop you from burning fat. Every time you eat, your insulin levels go up. So if you eat 6X a day which is recommended by some fitness coaches, you are causing glucose spikes 6X a day which elevate insulin levels and puts a block on any fat burning as you will be using the glucose instead. Over time, this leads to the development of visceral organ and belly fat.

  • Fasting is good for metabolic health because insulin will remain low so your body will use the stored glucose and then burn body fat. We have become metabolically rigid by keeping insulin high all the time. Our ancestors went through periods of feast and famine with ease because they were metabolically flexible. That’s how our bodies are designed and we need to train our body to keep our glucose and insulin down.

  • Dr. Means also advocates that if we are fasting, we need to stop eating early. Eating carbs late at night is associated with insomnia and messes with our melatonin release. Also, our glucose levels will bounce around all night which keeps our body temperature elevated. We fall into DEEP sleep when our body temperature drops. If we have to eat later in the day, try to go for a walk before or after the meal.

  • Sleep is very important for metabolic flexibility. One night of poor sleep can promote insulin resistance. In a study conducted on young men, 4 nights of poor sleep (less than 5 hours) showed markers of pre-insulin resistance.

  • We need to choose foods that don’t spike our glucose levels. This doesn’t mean we need to eat a ketogenic or a low carbohydrate diet. We just need to know what combination of carbs works for our body. A banana can spike glucose for some people and not for others. A study conducted in the Journal of Cell showed that a group given the exact same diet responded differently: that’s because genetics, microbiome composition, baseline insulin sensitivity, visceral fat, exercise, and sleep all differ from person to person. A good choice for you isn’t a good choice for others. I felt vindicated in listening to this – I kept telling friends/family that I can’t just have a bowl of veggie bean soup for lunch without feeling super hungry shortly thereafter. Well, my CGM gave me the truth – my glucose shot up with a lunchtime meal of a bowl of bean soup.

  • A single blood prick or glucose measurement is not sufficient as it’s only a single point in time measurement. However, a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) is highly beneficial because it provides us with instantaneous feedback throughout the day on how our body responds which empowers us to make decisions. Dr. Means suggests a CGM for a month to get a sense of what works for your body and then do it again in six months. I did mine for a month and was amazed at how combining certain foods did/did not impact glucose and when and how I ate them made such a difference. It also allowed me to choose foods and combinations to avoid glucose crashes with subsequent hunger pangs, cravings. For example, I found out that after a healthy meal of scallops and a large salad, I was able to enjoy a double scoop of ice cream for dessert with only a moderate increase in my glucose level.
  • Dr. Means also suggests we eat lots of veggies and include those that are higher carbs like carrots and sweet potatoes but do it judiciously and train your body to use and process these carbs. If you completely exclude carbs from your diet, your body cannot be trained to process them – that’s why people that come off a strict ketogenic diet often gain back their weight.

  • Note on COVID: Covid absolutely discriminates against people with metabolic dysfunction and as we soon discovered, there is increased risk of mortality for those with diabetes, heart disease and obesity. We need to have significant public health investment towards rapidly improving metabolic health if we want long-term, positive outcomes with Covid.

  • What are the mechanisms for Covid?
    • High blood pressure impairs our immune function and also immune cells are stunted and cannot move properly when glucose is in the body.
    • People with diabetes have an upregulation of the ACE2 receptor and this is how the virus gets into the cells.
    • Lung fluid has more sugar in people with diabetes and that makes viral replication easier.
    • Inflammation is high in people with diabetes, obesity and heart disease and this upregulates the cytokines. And it’s this immune response to Covid that kills people.  If your cytokines are already elevated, when the virus is added, it is a compounded effect that makes the response more deadly and exaggerated.

  • In conclusion, we desperately need disease reversal programs AND coaching programs to manage metabolic health.

If you’d like to listen to the full podcast, click here:

Podcast: How Out of Control Blood Sugar Can Cause Belly Fat, Brain Fog, and Chronic Disease

If you’d like to try using a CGM (Continuous Glucose Monitoring) device, please consult your physician.