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Get Off The Blood Sugar Roller Coaster

Your body prefers to maintain a normal blood glucose (or blood sugar) level, which is a fairly narrow range (approximately 75-100 mg/dl). Unhealthy blood glucose levels, either too high or too low, are strongly correlated with poor health.

From Carbohydrate to Sugar to Glucose

Through the process of digestion, all carbohydrates break down into sugars. These sugars enter the blood stream and become blood glucose. This isn’t entirely bad since your body, including your brain, needs glucose for fuel and to work properly. The trouble is when too many or the wrong type of carbohydrates are eaten, which causes a spike in blood glucose and therefore a spike in insulin.

Unhealthy Blood Glucose Levels = Poor Health

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. When you eat, glucose levels rise, and insulin is released into the bloodstream to remove the glucose. The insulin acts like a key, opening up cells so they can take in the sugar and use it as an energy source. Basically, insulin tells your body what to do with the calories—burn it or store it.

When your body has enough fuel stored to function effectively between meals, insulin’s message to the body is to store excess calories as fat. When insulin is elevated, your body also will not use fat as energy, preventing your body from tapping into its fat stores.

Elevated insulin is also thought to increase C-reactive protein (inflammation), contribute to high blood pressure, encourage the proliferation of cells (cancer), and stimulate brain neurons to produce amyloid proteins and interferes with an enzyme that degrades and clears it (Alzheimer’s disease). This news is certainly bleak, and isn’t a state you want your body to chronically be in.

What We Eat Matters!

We all know breakfast is certainly the most important meal of the day. On the other hand, eating the wrong type of breakfast leads to several undesirable results.

Here’s an example of a Standard American breakfast: cold cereal, skim milk, orange juice and/or coffee. Once digested you will rapidly absorb about 19 teaspoons of sugar! Insane! Your body only needs <1 teaspoon of sugar to keep blood glucose levels normal.

What happens to your blood sugar over the next couple of hours after this Standard American, unbalanced breakfast is the undesirable roller coaster effect.

Take a look at what occurs:

First, blood glucose surges above normal levels, which increases the amount of insulin released into your blood stream. Excess insulin increases fat storage in your body.

A surge in your blood glucose often leaves people in a brain fog and some experience mood swings. Your body is stressed with above normal blood glucose levels. It does not like being out of balance and is working hard to drop the blood glucose back to normal, which is when a lot of damage occurs.   

Next, blood glucose plunges below normal levels causing cortisol levels to increase. Cortisol is a stress hormone that counters insulin by encouraging higher blood glucose levels. Over time, cortisol weakens the immune system, weakens memory, and induces inflammation in your body. A drop in blood glucose also causes cravings to increase—typically high-sugar, high-fat cravings, and leaves people feeling fatigued and in a brain fog. As you can tell, your body is stressed with below normal blood glucose levels.

Healthy Blood Sugar Levels = Optimal Health

Research has shown a breakfast rich in protein significantly improves appetite control and reduces unhealthy snacking on high-fat or high-sugar foods in the evening. Here’s an example of a breakfast that will keep your blood sugar within the normal range: eggs with spinach or any other non-starchy vegetables you desire, cheese, and herbal or green tea. Once digested you will slowly absorb about 4½ teaspoons of sugar. This amount of sugar causes a much more normal rise in your blood glucose.

Avoiding the roller coaster in your blood glucose means there is less fat storage taking place because less insulin needs to be released. Less cortisol is running through your body, and therefore you will have less cravings. You’ll feel less moody, have steady energy, and be able to think clearly—bye, bye brain fog.  

Tips for Supporting Healthy Blood GlucoseLevels and Reducing Insulin Spikes

1. Reduce or eliminate simple carbohydrates. They are quickly digested into sugars and absorbed into the blood stream. Examples include: refined grains (white flour, white rice, pasta, bread, bagels, instant oatmeal, rolled oats, etc.), whole grain flours, sugars, low-fat dairy, and fruit juice.

2. Choose complex carbohydrates. They are digested and absorbed more slowly due to their fiber and/or fat content. Eating fiber and fats with carbohydrates slows down the conversion to blood glucose. Examples include: non-starchy vegetables, fruits, full-fat dairy, nuts, seeds, and legumes.

3. Make non-starchy vegetables the bulk of your diet. Dark green leafy lettuce, tomatoes, celery, cucumber, cabbage, kale, Swiss chard, bok choy, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, and all other unmentioned green vegetables are excellent choices.

4. Reduce or eliminate your intake of sugar and all foods that contain sugar. Some of the most concentrated sources of sugar are soda, cookies, chocolate bars, donuts, pastries, ice cream, ketchup, and barbeque sauce.

5. Reduce or eliminate your use of sweeteners like corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, pasteurized/heated honey, maple syrup, and agave nectar. Also consider eliminating all types of artificial sweeteners.

6. Limit intake of fruit juices, even freshly squeezed fruit juice. If you want to taste fruit, eat whole fruit, not the juice. The fiber, vitamins, and minerals that come with whole fruit help slow the pace at which the natural sugars from fruit enter your bloodstream.

Bottom Line: If this roller coaster describes you, start tweaking what you eat. You will feel much, much better. You may even lose some weight while you’re at it!

In Health and Happiness,

Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods

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Improve Your Odds Against Alzheimer's Disease

The thought of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) fills my heart with sadness…I saw my grandpa slowly lose his memory, judgment, ability to take care of himself, and eventually his life to this horrible disease. At the same time, I have become very interested in this disease. What causes it? Is it genetic? Is there a cure or any way to reduce your/my risk?

What is AD?

It is a degenerative disorder which damages brain cells, causing memory loss, impaired mental processing, behavioral changes, and more.  

What Causes AD? 

Scientists don’t yet fully understand what causes AD, but many experts believe the major cause of AD are plaque deposits called amyloids, which progressively build over time and hinder neuron communication. Additional risk factors include aging, head trauma, diabetes, and genetics.

What Role Does Genetics Play in AD?

There are two types of Alzheimer's—early-onset and late-onset. Both types have a genetic component. Genetic research has turned up evidence of a link between Alzheimer's disease and genes on four chromosomes.

Early-onset Alzheimer's disease occurs in people age 30 to 60. It is rare, representing less than 5% of all people who have Alzheimer's. Some cases of early-onset Alzheimer's have no known cause, but most cases are inherited, a type known as familial Alzheimer's disease.

Most cases of Alzheimer's are the late-onset form, which develops after age 60. The causes of late-onset Alzheimer's are not yet completely understood, but they likely include a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that influence a person's risk for developing the disease.

Is There A Cure or Any Way to Reduce Your Risk?

Yes!! Removing toxins from your brain, and reducing your exposure to sugars and grains is a very important piece. The following steps may also improve your odds against the disease.

Add Antioxidants. 

Free radicals can exacerbate AD because they cause oxidative stress to brain cells. To counteract free radicals, fill at least half of your lunch and dinner plate with antioxidant-rich foods. Good choices include leafy greens like kale and spinach, crucifers such as broccoli and brussels sprouts, and bright vegetables like red peppers, carrots, and roasted beets.

Boost Vitamin B12.

Research connects low vitamin B12 blood levels to accumulation of homocysteine, an amino acid linked to AD. Older adults should seek 2.4 mcg vitamin B12 per day through foods like lean meat, eggs, low-fat milk, and cheese. As you age, you don’t absorb B12 as well, so consider asking your doctor for a homocysteine blood test to determine your levels. I prefer this B-complex by Seeking Health. It's very high quality and reputable. 

Decrease Saturated and Trans Fat intake.  

A diet high in saturated and trans fats has been found to be associated with cognitive decline. Take steps to reduce your intake of these two fats and protect your heart by infusing your diet with more omega-3’s. Decrease your intake of red meat and consider eating fatty fish such as salmon and tuna at least twice per week. A handful of nuts or seeds every day is also a good healthy fat source.

Drink Tea.

Observational studies suggest tea drinking is associated with lower risks of cognitive impairment and decline, and the protective effect was not limited to a particular type of tea-both black and green tea are shown beneficial.

Try Lipoic Acid.

Studies show when people with mild AD take lipoic acid, they experience slower cognitive decline. Lipoic acid boosts production of acetylcholine (dubbed the quick-thinking chemical), a primary neurotransmitter involved in learning and memory. Ask your health provider about taking 600 mg lipoic acid per day.

Try Phosphatidylcholine (PC). 

I recently wrote about phosphatidylcholine because it's one of the top selling products on our website. People often use phosphatidylcholine for their cognitive health. Researchers hypothesize PC may help people with Alzheimer’s disease, but clinical studies have not yet supported this theory 100%. Still, people with mild to moderate dementia may benefit from a phosphatidylcholine supplement.

Take Acetyl-L-Carnitine.  

This bioavailable amino acid improves energy sources in cell mitochondria, which boosts antioxidant levels. Plus, studies suggest acetyl-Lcarnitine can optimize AD prescription drugs such as donepezil or rivastigmine by as much as 50 percent. A standard dose is 2-3 grams acetyl-L-carnitine per day.

Get Moving.  

Research overwhelmingly shows that physical activity both reduces disease risk and slows cognitive decline in people exhibiting mild symptoms. You don’t have to go to the gym for strenuous exercise; try walking, cleaning, or doing yard work every day.

Stay Mentally Active.

Adopting a spirit of lifelong learning can reduce Alzheimer’s risk. Consistent mental stimulation strengthens existing brain cell connections and may help generate new neural pathways. Take a course at a local college, attend lectures or plays, paint, or read.

Be Social.  

There is a lot we still don’t understand about Alzheimer’s, but having an active social life may reduce risk. Access community resources to join a book club, schedule weekly coffee with friends, or volunteer. If you are diagnosed, find a support group in your area on alz.org.

In Health and Happiness,

Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods

Kelly Harrington, MS, RD

References:

National Institute on Aging.  http://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/alzheimers-disease-genetics-fact-sheet

Nan Hu, Jin-Tai Yu, Lin Tan, et al.  Nutrition and the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.  BiomedRes Int. 2013. 

 

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Foods For A Healthier Brain

5.4 million Americans are affected by dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, and this number is predicted to double by the year 2030. We all want to take care of our bodies and minds, and preventing Alzheimer's disease and other degenerative cognitive conditions is something that most of us would prioritize.

New research in the field of neuroscience is showing that old dietary guidelines may actually be reponsible for this epidemic of cognitive decline. Dr. David Perlmutter, M.D. is a neurologist and author of Grain Brain, and he believes a low carb, high fat diet is the secret to a healthy brain. Dr. Perlmutter's advice on how to maintain a healthy brain is in direct opposition to what many believe to be an ideal diet. Here are his guidelines:

Your Brain Needs Fat

Good dietary fat is a rich source of energy for the cells in our brains, which along with exercise can stimulate new brain cells and improve memory. This is not a ticket to go wild and eat all fats, however. Avoid hdyrogenated and trans fats, such as cooking oils like corn oil and soy oil. Dr. Perlmutter's recommended trio of "Anti-Alzheimer's" foods includes coconut oil, avocados, and grass-fed beef.

Your Brain Needs Cholesterol

Almost 25% of the cholesterol in your body is found in your brain, where it acts as an antioxidant, plays a role in membrane function, and is used to make progesterone, estrogen, cortisol, testosterone, and vitamin D. A recent study found that the best memory function in the elderly was observed in those with the highest levels of cholesterol, and that low cholesterol levels were linked to an increased risk for depression and death. 1 So many Americans have been put on low cholesterol diets by well-meaning physicians in order to benefit cardiovascular health, but avoiding butter and egg yolks may have put their brain at risk instead.

A 2012 May Clinic report published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease shows that adults eating mostly carbohydrate rich foods ended up with an 89% increased risk of becoming demented, while those whose diets had higher levels of healthful fats actually experienced a 44% risk reduction for dementia. 2

What to Eat for a Healthier Brain

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is one of Dr. Perlmutter's three favorite foods high in "brain healthy fats". Coconut oil is a rich source of beta-HGA, a "superfuel" for the brain. The saturated fats in coconut oil fight inflammation in the brain and body, and make our immune systems more effective at ridding our bodies of invading organisms. Dr. Perlmutter recommends adding coconut oil to your smoothies or morning cup of coffee, where the medium-chain triglycerides will also give you an added boost of energy, or using it to stir fry your favorite vegetables.

Olive Oil

Olive Oil is a mainstay of the Mediterranean diet, lauded for its ability to protect against both heart disease and strokes. A six year long study found that people who ate more olive oil had less heart disease, cognitive impairments and less instances of developing dementia than those who ate a low-fat diet. Olive oil provides benefits to both the heart and the brain.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is synthesized by the body when exposed to sunlight, and stimulates more than 900 genes in human physiology - most of which reside in the brain. These genes relate to activities like inflammation reduction, strengthening nerve cells, and helping the brain rid itself of viruses. A study published in Archives of Neurology by the American Medical Association found there to be a dramatically decreased incidence of Parkinson's disease and other degenerative diseases in people with the highest levels of vitamin D. 2

DHA

DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is an omega-3 essential fatty acid that is essential for the growth and functional development of the brain in infants, where deficiencies in DHA are linked to deficits in learning. Decreases in DHA are also associated with cognitive decline during the aging process. Dr. Perlmutter recommends a daily dose of DHA from fish oil or algae. "DHA is a valuable anti-inflammatory, and you all know how dangerous inflammation is to our brains and our bodies," says Dr. Perlmutter. DHA is found in fatty fish such as tuna, salmon, and mackerel, and in supplements made from fish oil.

What to Avoid for Brain Health

Eating more healthy fats such as olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, and grass-fed beef can benefit the brain, but what foods should you avoid? Dr. Perlmutter recommends reducing carbs and gluten for a healthy brain. Remember, those hydrogenated and trans fats are off the table, too!

Carbohydrates

In 2011, Neurology published The Hisayama study, which suggested that diabetes is a significant risk factor for dementia and Alzheimer's disease. A number of additional studies are echoing these findings. Carbohydrates are sugar-based molecules found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy products, breads, pastas, and sweets that can cause spikes in blood sugars. Reducing carb intake can help reduce the likelihood of developing diabetes.

Gluten

Gluten sensitivity, which may affect up to 30% of the population, can have neurological manifestations and result in neurological dysfunction. Interesting enough, patients who present neurological manifestations of gluten sensitivity often have no gastrointestinal symptoms.

So, in direct opposition to the "old school" advice that a diet high in whole grains and low in fat is beneficial to us, new and exciting research is showing us that a high-fat, low-carb, and gluten-free diet may be the ticket to healthy minds and bodies for years to come.

Melissa Zimmerman, Healthy Goods


Resources:

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18757771

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22810099

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20625085?dopt=Citation

4. http://www.neurology.org/content/77/12/1126.short?sid=a273beb2-4f0e-4247-b03f-e1079bf3807b

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-david-perlmutter-md/alzheimers-prevention_b_3965174.html

http://www.drperlmutter.com/vitamin-d-parkinsons-disease/#more-1968

http://www.nbcnews.com/health/tasty-diet-cuts-heart-disease-study-finds-1C8533026

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10479465

http://www.drperlmutter.com/daily-dose-dha/

http://drperlmutter.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Celiac-disease-from-gut-to-brain.pdf

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How Stress Affects Your Gut and Digestion

Your heart isn't the only organ that takes a beating when you’re stressed. While under stress, your heart rate goes up, your blood pressure rises, and blood is shunted away from your midsection, going to your arms, legs, and head for quick thinking, fighting, or fleeing. All of these changes are referred to as the physiological stress response.

Under those circumstances, your digestion also completely shuts down, which can have severe ramifications for your overall health. Americans are notorious for “eating on the run,” which can negate the benefits you’d otherwise reap from eating a healthier diet (or make the effects of a poor diet worse). The stress response causes a number of detrimental events in your body, including:

  • Decreased nutrient absorption
  • Elevated cholesterol
  • Increased food sensitivity
  • Decreased oxygenation to your gut
  • Elevated triglycerides
  • As much as four times less blood flow to your digestive system, which leads to decreased metabolism
  • Decreased gut flora populations
  • Decreased enzymatic output in your gut – as much as 20,000-fold!

Perhaps most importantly, when your body is under the stress response, your cortisol and insulin levels rise. These two hormones tend to track each other, and when your cortisol is consistently elevated under a chronic low-level stress response, you may experience difficulty losing weight or building muscle. Additionally, if your cortisol is chronically elevated, you’ll tend to gain weight around your midsection, which is a major contributing factor to developing diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Many nutrients critical for health are also excreted during stress, particularly:

  • Water-soluble vitamins
  • Macrominerals
  • Microminerals
  • Calcium (calcium excretion can increase as much as 60 to 75 mg within an hour of a stressful event)

Tending to Your Gut is Important to Help Combat Mental Stress

What this all boils down to is that when you eat under stress, your body is in the opposite state of where you need to be in order to digest, assimilate nutrients and burn calories. You could be eating the healthiest food in the world, but if your body cannot fully digest and assimilate that food, then you will not reap the benefits from it, nor will you be able to burn calories effectively.

Interestingly, neurotransmitters like serotonin are also found in your gut. In fact, the greatest concentration of serotonin, which is involved in mood control, depression and suppressing aggression, is found within your intestines, not your brain. It’s no surprise then that scientific evidence shows nourishing your gut flora with the friendly bacteria with fermented foods or probiotics is extremely important for proper brain function, including psychological well-being and mood control. For instance, the probiotic known as Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001 has been shown to normalize anxiety-like behavior in mice with infectious colitis.

Research published in 2011 also demonstrated that probiotics have a direct effect on brain chemistry under normal conditions -- in such a way that can impact your feelings of anxiety or depression.

In short, the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus had a marked effect on GABA [an inhibitory neurotransmitter that is significantly involved in regulating many physiological and psychological processes] levels in certain brain regions and lowered the stress-induced hormone corticosterone, resulting in reduced anxiety- and depression-related behavior. The authors concluded:

"Together, these findings highlight the important role of bacteria in the bidirectional communication of the gut-brain axis and suggest that certain organisms may prove to be useful therapeutic adjuncts in stress-related disorders such as anxiety and depression."

For Optimal Health, Take Stress Management Seriously

You cannot eliminate stress entirely, but you can work to provide your body with tools to compensate for the bioelectrical short-circuiting that can cause serious disruption in many of your body's important systems. By using energy psychology techniques such as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), you can reprogram your body’s reactions to the unavoidable stressors of everyday life. EFT stimulates different energy meridian points in your body by tapping them with your fingertips while tapping on specific key locations, custom-made verbal affirmations are said repeatedly. This can be done alone or under the supervision of a qualified therapist.

Seeking the help of a licensed therapist is particularly recommended if you’re dealing with trauma-based stress such as PTSD or grief following the loss of a loved one. There are also many other stress-management strategies you can employ to help you unwind and address your stress, including:

  • Exercise. Studies have shown that during exercise, tranquilizing chemicals (endorphins) are released in your brain. Exercise is a natural way to bring your body pleasurable relaxation and rejuvenation, and has been shown to help protect against the physical effects of daily stress
  • Restorative sleep
  • Meditation (with or without the additional aid of brain wave synchronization technology)
  • Schedule time to eat without rushing, and make sure to maintain optimal gut health by regularly consuming fermented foods, such as fermented vegetables, or taking a high-quality probiotics supplement. Here are our favorite gut nourishers

Article courtesy of DrMercola.com, and found in its entirety (with sources), here.

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Keep Kids Away From Pesticides!

As a mom of two young boys, I was thrilled to see the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a policy statement to raise awareness about the harmful effects pesticides have on young children. 

The report states, “Pediatricians should ask parents about pesticide use around the home and yard, offer guidance about safe storage, and recommend parents choose lowest-harm approaches when considering pest control.”  It also urges pediatricians to work with schools and government agencies to advocate for the least toxic methods of pest control—and to inform communities when pesticides are being used in the area.

Each spring, I am disgusted when I walk into Home Depot and I'm greeted by prominent displays of economy-sized containers of Roundup, Monsanto’s ubiquitous glyphosphate. And that smell though!? Ugh! Exposure to glyphosate has been linked in studies to ADHD, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, miscarriages, an increase in autoimmune diseases, and hormone changes. Glyphosate destroys the healthy bacteria in the microbiome, which are responsible for maintaining a balanced immune response. A disrupted microbiome triggers inflammation and can eventually trigger autoimmune disorders and and inflammatory disorders.

Somehow, our society still has a blind spot about using pesticides, which is defined as any substance used to kill a pest. If it kills pests, it can’t be good for us—much less our developing young children. Are dandelions and flies such an impediment to our wellbeing that we are willing to risk poisoning our families, not to mention contaminating our water supply?

Here’s the Good News: 

There are many effective, nontoxic solutions to your dreaded pest problems—and most of them are a lot less expensive than their chemical counterparts! As parents (and pediatricians) better understand the serious downsides of pesticide use inside their home, in their yard, and in their local community, I hope they will be motivated to use these alternatives.

Know Thy Enemies (common household products considered pesticides)

  • Lawn and garden weed killers
  • Rodent poisons
  • Insect repellents
  • Cockroach sprays and baits
  • Flea and tick sprays, powders and pet collars
  • Kitchen, laundry, and bath disinfectants and sanitizers
  • Products that kill mold and mildew
  • Some swimming pool and hot tub chemicals
They all contain xenoestrogens, which are extremely harmful to any and everyone.
How to Reduce Pests Without Exposing Your Family to Pesticides

Instead of going straight to the most toxic chemicals to immediately kill household pests, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health recommends the following:

  • First, analyzing the source of the infestation.
  • Eliminate all possible indoor and outdoor food sources and habitats.
  • Keep indoors dry, clean and well ventilated.
  • If this does not solve the problem, use chemicals only in minimal, recommended amounts that are mixed or diluted outdoors and applied in well-ventilated areas.
  • Be sure to dispose of unneeded pesticides safely.

As a pesticide-free option, check out BioCare’s pesticide-free insect & pest traps.

In Health and Happiness,

Kelly Harrington, MS, RD

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods

kelly harrington, MS, RD

Article courtesy of Delicious Living blog, (published 11/29/12), found here.

 

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