Fitness & Well Being

 

Cholesterol levels on a package

Deciding what to do about cholesterol is a controversial subject but we walk you through the options with opinions from a variety of voices.

 
Photo: rpernell/iStockphoto
Shortly after World War II, doctors and researchers discovered that cholesterol is a component of arterial plaque. It wasn’t long after this discovery that the medical establishment waged war on cholesterol, blaming it as a major contributor to heart disease. Four decades later, many are stumped as to how to increase good cholesterol.
 
JoggersSimply put: It’s not as straightforward as many people would hope.
 
In fact, the subject of cholesterol is very controversial. Ask one doctor who follows the mainstream medical liturgy of how to increase good cholesterol and you’ll likely hear the following:
 
  • Replace saturated fats with monounsaturated fats.
  • Substitute animal-based products with soy foods for heart health.
  • Possibly take prescription drugs to reduce your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels.
  • Perform daily aerobic exercise for 30 minutes most days of the week and you can raise your HDL levels, or “good” cholesterol.
 
It’s safe to say there are no doctors who would argue with the fact that exercise can boost HDL levels.
 
However, some doctors disagree with the American Heart Association’s claim that, “High cholesterol is one of the major controllable risk factors for coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke. As your blood cholesterol rises, so does your risk of coronary heart disease.”
 
The International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics lists approximately 80 medical doctor members all of whom disavow mainstream medical advice about how to raise good cholesterol.
 
Although not a member of the Network of Cholesterol Skeptics, Palm Desert, Calif.-based, Dr. Jon Dunn said back in 2008, “Overall I believe that cholesterol by itself is essential to our health and well-being, and the majority of negative publicity surrounding cholesterol serves only to profit the pharmaceutical industry.”
 
Cholesterol, Dunn asserts, is not the main culprit for heart disease. So what is? According to Dunn, it’s inflammation, and the following methods — in addition to regular exercise — can reduce your risk for arterial inflammation, and as a side benefit, can increase HDL levels, or what’s commonly called in the mainstream medical realm as good cholesterol:
 
  • Don’t cook with vegetable oils other than olive oil.
  • Avoid high sugar/processed food; white flour products; alcohol and nicotine.
  • Maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
  • Correct hormonal imbalances.
  • Manage stress levels.
 
Blackberry
You can increase HDL cholesterol levels and reduce inflammation, according to Dunn by consuming some of the following foods and supplements:
 
  • Dark fruits (blueberries, dark cherries, blackberries, dark grapes)
  • Omega 3 fatty acids (in the form of whole, coldwater oily fish like salmon or fish oil supplements, 1200-2400 milligrams, 2-3 times per day with meals)
  • Magnesium: 200 mg 1-2 times perday
  • Calcium citrate: 500 milligrams daily
  • Alpha Lipoic: 100–500 milligrams daily
 
In his book "The Cholesterol Myths," Swedish doctor Uffe Ravnskov, who is the spokesman for the International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics, argues that saturated fat is unjustly blamed for causing heart disease. On the contrary, Ravnskov posits that saturated fats, such as animal protein, which contain cholesterol, are important for overall health.
 
Dr. Thomas Cowan, another doctor who has doubts that cholesterol should be blamed for heart disease suggests the following for those with high levels of LDLs, and thus want to increase good cholesterol:
 
  • Take a liver-cleansing supplement
  • Supplement with artichoke extract
  • Lower carbohydrate intake
Drinking water
 
Bloomfield, Mich.-based Dr. David Brownstein, another member of the International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics, claims that Vitamin C can also reduce inflammation, which, according to him, is more important than worrying about eating foods like organic, all-natural animal-based products that contain cholesterol. His recommendations:
 
  • 2,000-5,000 milligrams per day of vitamin C
  • Drink enough water
  • Don’t eat refined foods
 
There are always exceptions to the rule. Some people are just dealt a bad genetic hand of cards and are at risk of dying young while having high cholesterol levels. But an increasing number of doctors are saying that rather than worrying about increasing good cholesterol, worry instead about reducing inflammation in your body.
 
Judd Handler is a freelance health writer in Encinitas, Calif.

 

Boy drinking from a bottle of water

We take you through six reasons why you'll want to make sure you drink enough water.

 
Photo: moyerphotos/Flickr
You’d think that most Americans would know to drink plenty of water throughout the day. But some estimates reveal that three-quarters of all Americans are dehydrated. In case you’re one of them, here are the benefits of drinking water.
 
Staying hydrated offers many benefits:
 
  1. It detoxifies the body. Water helps flush toxins out of organs, carries nutrients to cells and provides a moist environment for the ear, nose and throat, according to the Mayo Clinic. The kidneys and liver do a miraculous job of flushing out toxins, even if you’re dehydrated, but the Mayo Clinic also says that these two vital organs have a much easier job cleansing our systems if we are properly hydrated.
  2. It lubricates joints. According to the National Institutes of Health, cartilage, the slippery coating at the end of each bone, is comprised of 65 to 80 percent water. Synovial fluid keeps cartilage healthy, slick and smooth, properly cushioning joints if properly hydrated. The University of Maryland Medical Centerrecommends drinking 6-8 glasses of water per day to possibly stave off osteoarthritis, the most common form of the joint disease known as arthritis.
  3. It can curb appetite. Could it be that of all the hundreds of diets and thousands of weight-loss books to hit the market, water is one of the most efficient appetite suppressants? At a meeting last year of the American Chemical Society, the results of a clinical trial was announced, confirming a long-standing belief—but surprisingly, never-before supported by research—that drinking two 8-ounce glasses of water before meals consumed 75-90 fewer calories per meal. That’s almost 300 fewer calories per day and 8,400 fewer calories per month. There are 3,500 calories in a pound of body fat. You do the math. Water can help with calorie control.
  4. It can help with mental well-being. One study, conducted by Tufts Universityresearchers on college athletes, concluded that subjects who engaged in high-intensity aerobic exercise for at least an hour and did not properly hydrate, were more prone to feeling angry and depressed. The study’s lesson: our mood is sensitive to fluid balance.
  5. It can possibly prevent and heal headaches. Very little research exists to support the claim that staying hydrated can prevent headaches, as well as being able to reverse the effects of headache if a subject is dehydrated. But one small pilot study concluded that intensity and duration of headaches was reduced after increased water intake.
  6. It can prevent constipation. As reported in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, low fluid intake was a prime cause of constipation. The colon, the study mentions, is not only a storage house for waste matter, it also plays a major role in fluid and electrolyte absorption. Simply put, if you don’t drink enough water, your colon won’t absorb enough water to effectively pass your waste.
 
How much water should I drink?
Guidelines for the amount of water you should consume daily are inconclusive and controversial. The old standby ‘8x8’, or eight, eight-oz. glasses of water per day, is still a popular recommendation. But another school of thought suggests that most food we eat is comprised of water, so we don’t really need to drink at least eight glasses a day.
 
Considering that many Americans are going through life dehydrated, it would make sense to follow the ‘8x8’ rule, and then some. Individual traits, such as gender, weight, basal metabolic rate and activity level, all have a role in determining how much water one should drink.
 
Judd Handler is a health writer and lifestyle coach in Encinitas, California. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Bags of spinach at a grocery store

Mixing plant-based iron sources with foods that are also high in Vitamin C can increase iron absorption.

 
POPEYE'S FAVORITE: Bags of spinach at a grocery store. Spinach is an excellent source of iron, but is high in oxalic acid that can hinder the body's absorption of iron. (Photo: David McNew/Getty Images)
Vegetarians, rejoice! Although it might be commonplace to assume that non-meat eaters have lower iron levels than omnivores, numerous studies have proven that there is no noticeable difference between the two groups.
 
But if you're a concerned vegetarian, here’s a primer on iron for vegetarians.
 
Iron, an essential mineral, has several functions, including:
 
  • Helping transport oxygen to the cells
  • Making ATP (adenosine triphosphate), our cell’s main energy producer
  • Aiding in blood cell creation
  • Supporting protein structures in the body
  • Creating connective tissue in the body
 
Vegetarians have good reason to fear lacking adequate amounts of iron. Low iron levels can lead to anemia, which can result in numerous negative side effects, including lethargy, shortness of breath and headaches.
 
Strict vegetarians are more at risk for developing iron-deficiency anemia than those who also eat some fish and eggs.
 
Although the iron from some vegetarian sources is harder to absorb than animal-flesh protein, mixing plant-based iron sources with foods that are also high in Vitamin C can increase iron absorption.
 
Some of the best vegetarian sources of iron include:
 
  • Whole grains
  • Dried beans
  • Egg yolks
  • Dried fruits
 
Iron supplements are encouraged for vegetarians who don’t get enough iron-rich foods. But, they are not absorbed by the body as effectively as the best whole food sources that are naturally rich in iron.
 
Did Popeye get enough iron from spinach?
Popeye was strong to the finish because he ate his spinach — or most people would like to believe.
 
In terms of iron density per 100 calories, spinach is unparalleled in its iron content, checking in at over 15 mg. In other words, 100 calories of spinach has the same amount of iron as eating 1700 calories of sirloin steak, according to the Vegetarian Resource Group.
 
But, if Popeye ate spinach alone, his iron absorption levels might be low. The problem with spinach is that it’s high in oxalic acid, which binds to iron and hinders absorption.
 
What other foods have oxalic acid?
Whole grains, which, if you’re paying attention, are aforementioned as a great vegetarian source of iron, but they are also high in oxalic acid. So are beans and nuts.
 
What to do? Eat foods that are high in Vitamin C, which helps absorb iron. Examples include broccoli, brussel sprouts, tomatoes (tomato juice as well), potatoes and red and green peppers.
 
Other sources of iron-rich foods for vegetarians
One cup of cooked soybeans has almost 9 mg of iron. Cooked lentils are also an excellent source, containing nearly 7 mg. Quinoa has over 6 mg. Swiss chard checks in at 4 mg per cooked cup and black, pinto and kidney beans all have at least 3 mg. And one large potato has 3.2 mg of iron.
 
Two types of iron
In general, dried beans and dark, leafy green vegetables are excellent sources of iron. On a per-calorie basis, vegetarian sources of iron are often touted as being better sources of iron than meat. But there are two forms of iron: heme and non-heme sources.
 
Meat contains both non-heme and heme iron, the latter of which is generally regarded as easier to absorb by the body than non-heme sources. Vegetarian and vegan sources of iron are comprised entirely of the non-heme form of iron.
 
Because of this fact, you’d think vegetarians suffer from iron deficiencies much more than omnivores, but vegetarians who consume plenty of Vitamin C have, for the most part, adequate levels of iron.
 
Vegetarians are lucky that most vegetables that are high in iron are also high in Vitamin C.
 
Have any other ideas for sources of iron for vegetarians. Let us know in the comments below.
 
Judd Handler is a health writer in Encinitas, CA.

 

Meditation in the park

We've got tips for how you can alleviate the pressure created by too much stress.

 
OM: Meditation can help reduce stress. (Photo: riabaeck/Flickr)
Having a heart-pounding, nail-biting, blood-pressure skyrocketing kind of day? Or week? Or past several years? It's time to learn how to reduce stress.
 
Leaving your high-stress levels unchecked can lead to the following health problems:
 
  • Chronic hypertension
  • Heart disease
  • Gastrointestinal disorders like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Tension headaches
  • Skin disorders
  • Sexual dysfunction
 
If IBS and sexual dysfunction don't get your attention, perhaps this sobering statistic will: stress is widely regarded as the number one killer in the U.S.
 
Heart disease, obesitydiabetes, cancer and other chronic diseases are, for the most part, attributed to stress, be it lifelong-lifestyle choices like poor nutrition, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.
 
High-pressure jobs, combative relationships with family and spouses, white-knuckle commutes and financial burdens are also major stressors. Perhaps it's impossible to magically make these stressors disappear, but it's mostly how we deal with stress that will determine our health.
 
To deal with the bad stressors in life (as well as the good; stress is stress to the body), you'll want to:
 
  • Practice breathwork and meditation at least once daily
  • Engage in moderate-intensity exercise daily
  • Eat three balanced whole-food meals at regular times daily
  • Gain a new perspective on the important things in life
  • Learn to express emotions without acting out on anger
 
Easier said than done, but if left unchecked, your stress could slowly — or quickly — subtract years from your life.
 
I'm too busy to meditate. What should I do?
No matter how many kids you have to whip up an omelet for in the morning and whisk away to school, you can always wake up 10 minutes earlier and find a quiet place to focus on slow, meditative breathing. This will calm the mind tremendously.
 
If it's absolutely impossible to meditate in the morning, make sure you leave some time in the middle of the day, when all the kids are at school. Even if you have a demanding job, say personal assistant for a Fortune 500 executive, go to your car if that's the only place that affords you privacy and focus on slow deep breathing, paying no mind to extraneous thoughts about life's problems.
 
Evening, before getting in bed is critical to managing stress levels. Don't let the stressors of the day flood your mind and body, possibly leading to a bad night's sleep. Find somewhere quiet with no television or Wi-Fi devices or bright lights to focus on doing nothing but concentrating on slow, full-belly and chest expansion breathing. Thoughts will come into your head but pay no mind to them.
 
What's the best exercise to combat negative stress?
Many people go to the gym for a workout that gets the stress out of them, but some workouts actually lead to more stress. The popularity of boot-camp style workouts are an example. Sure, they'll whip your butt into great cardiovascular shape, but potentially at the risk of adding more stress.
 
If you're a "type A" personality focused on financial goal motivations first and foremost in life, you'll want to, besides considering changing your perspective on life, pick an exercise routine that will relax you instead. Moderate yoga (such as Hatha) offers the benefits of focusing on controlling the breath, while simultaneously getting your heart rate up (but not too high) and strengthening muscles and bones.
 
If you absolutely have to do triathlon-style training, be sure to complement with relaxing and rejuvenating moving-meditation type exercises like Qi Gong or Tai Chi.
 
Why does stress make my belly ache?
If you've gone the past few decades in life eating much refined carbohydrate, white-flour and sugar-laden foods, you may have a weakened gastrointestinal system. Eating bad foods, including to those that you are sensitive (wheat, soy, corn) can compromise the mucosal barrier in your gut, which is your body's first line of defense against pathogens. Most of your immune system lies within your gut, so eat the wrong foods year after year, and you may end up with more than just a tummy ache.
 
What can I do to control my anger? My boss is a complete jerk!
Learning to express how you feel without letting your emotions get in the way is as difficult as learning Swahili: difficult, but not impossible. Just getting the basics can be life-transforming.
 
There are plenty of classes and workshops on Non-Violent Communication (a.k.a. "compassionate communication"), possibly led by facilitators in your area. The major steps to learning how to express your anger include:
 
  • Making an observation (My boss yelled at me today)
  • Stating calmly how the observation makes you feel (It made me feel angry, upset, stressed-out)
  • Declaring your needs (I have a need for respect and kindness)
  • Formulating a request (I request of my boss to stop yelling at me and talk to me in a calm tone)
 
Most negative stress is caused at either the home or workplace. Learning to communicate feelings is indeed like learning a second language, but doing so can extend your life and reduce stress.
 
Judd Handler is a wellness and lifestyle coach in Encinitas, California. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

How to boost metabolism? Exercise and diet.

Here's the skinny on boosting metabolism, along with 8 simple ideas for burning more calories.

 
Photo: iStockphoto
For those who struggle with weight and low energy, learning how to increase metabolism will result in safe and effective fat loss, an increase in muscle tone, an elevated sense of mental well-being and a host of other wellness benefits.
 
Even the environment will fare better as we collectively improve metabolism. How so? Many people struggling with obesity eat a majority of their calories from processed, factory-farmed and heavily packaged foods. These foods are far more of a strain on the environment than foods grown naturally.
 
With those facts in mind, we present our list of tips on how to increase metabolism:
 
Tip #1: Eat real food
 
How to increase metabolism: eat real foodAsk yourself if something you’re about to eat was around more than 10,000 years ago. If not, don’t eat it. Better yet, if you’re really serious about boosting your metabolism, raid your pantry and fridge — not to gorge, but to purge it of any products that you highly doubt were around just a few generations ago.
 
If you have a hunch that the Jell-O, Twinkies, potato chips and Twizzlers in your cabinets weren’t enjoyed by cavemen, trash them and never buy them again.
 
Lean meats, plenty of fresh vegetables, some fruit and a small amount of seeds, nuts and natural oils should comprise 99 percent of your food intake. (Cheat once in a blue moon so you don’t completely fall off the wagon.)
 
Start reading food labels. If a product has as many items as the periodic table of elements, it won’t boost your metabolism. Don’t eat something if it has more than three to five ingredients (less is best).
 
Foods loaded with preservatives, excessive natural sugar, and cheap sugar surrogates like high-fructose corn syrup lead to weight gain because these substances are a shock to the liver and have a tendency to get stored as body fat.
 
Tip #2: Eat 3-6 times per day
 
How to increase metabolism: eat 3-6 times per dayOn one hand, it seems like many people have heard the wise tip of eating several small meals throughout the day. Why then is there still a prevalence of fasting to lose weight?
 
The psychological factor of stepping on a scale and seeing the weight go down is huge. If someone skips meals, say to lose 10 pounds for a wedding, they may be successful in dropping the weight.
 
When someone steps on a scale, however, the number before them does not tell the whole story.
 
The reading on the scale fails to decipher how much weight was attributed to fat loss (much to the chagrin of the faster, not likely very much), how much to muscle gain (none; more likely, muscle mass will waste away), and how much to water-weight fluctuations (very likely).
 
Eating smaller, balanced meals throughout the day keeps blood sugar levels from fluctuating. As a result, cravings for foods that tend to put on fat are greatly reduced.
 
If you go several hours without eating (more than four or five), your body’s neurological wiring will still act as it did in prehistoric times, shutting down your metabolism to prepare for a period of starvation.
 
Tip #3: Eat 10 grams of protein by 10 a.m.
 
How to increase metabolism: eat 10 grams proteinEvery meal you eat should contain the three main macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein and natural fat. The trick is to figure out which proportions of each to eat at every meal. (An online test called Metabolic Typing can help you figure this out).
 
And if you’re following tip #2, chances are, you’re eating breakfast. That’s smart because it will fire up your engine and make sure your metabolism gets cranking early in the day.
 
By 10 a.m. every day — lazy Sundays included — eat 10 grams of high-quality protein to kick start your metabolism. (One egg has about 6 grams.) Even waiting to eat your first meal of the day at an 11 a.m. brunch will throw your metabolism off for the rest of the day.
 
Tip #4: Exercise — but don’t do too much cardio
 
How to increase metabolism: exerciseSome runners and joggers can’t figure out why, despite all the cardiovascular exercise they’re doing, those last 10 extra pounds won’t melt away.
 
Too much cardio will actually burn muscle tissue. A better way to boost metabolism through exercise is to start a strength-training routine.
 
Don’t have the money or desire to join a gym or hire a personal trainer? No problem. Your own body is the only piece of exercise equipment you need. You also don’t need to exercise for an hour or more at a clip to boost your metabolism.
 
Recent studies have demonstrated that several short bursts of resistance training can be more effective at boosting metabolism than an hour-long workout. Pushups off your knees, even for men, are a great way to get back in shape and boost metabolism. Perform several sets of 10 repetitions throughout the day.
 
4 extra tips to boost metabolism:
  • Drink green tea throughout the day.
  • Make sure to also drink plenty of water.
  • Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night to regulate hormone levels.
  • Check with a health professional to see if your hormone levels are balanced.
Judd Handler is a certified Metabolic Typing Advisor and wellness coach. He offers complimentary wellness consultations via Skype (search: coach_judd).
 
Got other ideas for how to increase metabolism? Leave us a note in the comments below.

Article Categories


Weekly Newsletter
Enter email address for Judd's weekly health newsletter

Member Login


feed-image RSS Feed