7 foods you should never eat

March 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Here’s a great post about seven foods you should never eat. Mostly because of high levels of contaminates and chemicals, which can lead to all sorts of health problems.  I won’t go into the studies and reasons why each one is on the list (you can read the original article for that).  I just wanted to give you the list.  So here it is:

  1. Canned tomatoes
  2. Corn-fed beef
  3. Microwave popcorn
  4. Non-organic potatoes
  5. Farmed salmon
  6. Milk produced with artificial hormones
  7. Non-organic apples

mmmm, newspaper ink

March 8, 2011 Leave a comment

I heard an interesting program on BBC Radio 4 this morning about toxins from packaging potentially leaking into your food.  The main culprit is recycled cardboard.  It if is recycled from newspaper, the toxins in the ink can potentially get into your food at dangerously high levels.  And the longer it sits on the shelf the more ink leaks in. 

Some companies are taking action and making sure that their packaging doesn’t have mineral oils, which are the chemicals from the ink.  At its worst, significant ingestion of mineral oils can cause the inflammation of internal organs and even cancer.  The best course of action is to check companies’ websites to see if you can find information on their packaging.  Otherwise, buy the freshest possible products – the more time they sit on the shelf, the more time there is for toxins to seep in.  There’s also a good article here with more information.

does aspartame really cause health problems?

February 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Aspartame is bad for you.  It will give you cancer and make you blind and break into your house late at night and steal all your stuff.  It’s pure evil and it’s out to hurt you.  I’ve always heard and been vaguely familiar with this type of scaremongering about artificial sweeteners, especially aspartame.  I didn’t pay much attention to it and generally dismissed it as a conspiracy theory or the normal type of banter that comes from people who think everything is harmful.  But I’ve been hearing more and more of it and it’s coming from credible sources, so I think it’s time to pay attention.

Artificial sweeteners are especially popular in diet drinks, which have been seeing a boom in sales because of the perception that they are healthier than regular, sugary drinks.  I just read about a study the other day that shows people who consume one diet soft drink per day have a 48% high risk of a heart attack or stroke than those who do drink regular soft drinks or none at all.  If that’s not enough, other research points to a long list of other aspartame related health problems: brain damage, seizures, brain tumors, vision impairment, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, headaches, hypertension and chronic fatigue syndrome. 

Another increasingly popular claim I’m hearing is that sweeteners produce an insulin spike by tricking the body into thinking it is consuming sugar because of its sweet taste.  This means that the body thinks it has extra energy to burn and therefore stops using fat for energy.  So sweeteners end up producing the opposite effect they are supposed to have, making it bad news for anyone who thought their diet drink was going to help them lose weight.

But are any of these claims true?  In short, maybe.  But the jury is still out with regards to aspartame and other sweeteners so it’s hard to tell.  There are arguments for and against sweeteners.  For example, here’s one that says there is no increased risk of cancer, here’s one that says there are no verified health problems associated with aspartame, and here’s one that say there’s no evidence that sucralose causes any health issues.

So, I’ll let you decide for yourself whether you think artificial sweeteners are safe or not.

crossfit: the best training program in the world

February 21, 2011 Leave a comment

I would like to shamelessly promote the exercise program that has completely changed my approach and attitude towards fitness over the past few years: Crossfit.  The idea is that you cross-train with lots of practical exercises (no machines required) to become an all-round fit athlete. It’s essentially lots of intense circuit training with some gymnastics and Olympic weightlifting thrown in for good measure. 

Originally starting out as a niche workout program for people in emergency services and the military, it’s grown into somewhat of a cult phenomenon over the past few years – just Google ‘Crossfit’ and see how many different gyms, variations and articles there are.  Loads.  But the heart of it all is at Crossfit.com, where the workout of the day (WOD) is posted, with lots of instructional videos to help you learn about the weird new exercises (like handstand push-ups!).  Best of all, it’s completely free.

Crossfit was founded by Greg Glassman, a gymnastics trainer who is referred to by the Crossfit community as Coach, with a capital ‘C’ (one of the cultish aspects of the program).  The rationale behind Crossfit is that if you perform lots of practical and intense exercises, it will make you bigger, faster and stronger.  Workouts are short and fast.  They’re often less than 20mins but will leave you doubled over and gasping for air.  The workout called “Cindy”, for example, is as many rounds as you can in 20mins of: 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups and 15 squats.  Workouts like this push you to the limit both aerobically and anaerobically – you’re building up your endurance and your strength at the same time. 

One way of describing Crossfit is to call is to call it the generalist of exercise.  Running, weightlifting, swimming, biking – these are all specializations that require certain movements and training.  A long-distance runner is probably not very good at weightlifting and vice versa. But a crossfiter would be pretty good at both of these.  One of the things makes Crossfit so great is the focus on functional movements that help you to build core strength.  For example, deadlifts give you the strength and form to pick up anything heavy off the floor – great for moving!  For firefighters, being able to do pull-ups could save their life if they were hanging on a window ledge or ladder.  The workouts themselves are fun, short and constantly training.  I got hooked from the very first time I tried Crossfit when my brother introduced me to it, and I haven’t looked back since.  I can only suggest that you try it out for yourself.

What water bottle are you using?

February 15, 2011 Leave a comment

If you workout then I’m sure you use a water bottle or a shaker bottle.  You probably pay more attention to what’s in the bottle than the bottle it self.  But it’s time to take a look at what bottle you’re using because it could be harming your health. 

Bisphenol-A (BPA) was, until recently, a chemical component in nearly every water bottle.  But more and more studies are showing that it could be toxic and damaging to our health – possibly even leading to cancer.  This is especially true of plastics that you use over and over and wash on a regular basis.  The more use you get out of them, the more they break down and are potentially harmful. 

In a number of countries, like Canada, BPA in baby bottles has been banned for some time, but the concern is spreading to beyond babies.  Chicago has banned all bottles with BPA and the trend is set to continue for other cities and countries.

BPA-free bottles are now widely available.  For more on the subject, I recommend this New York Times analysis.

are high protein diets safe?

June 2, 2010 1 comment

Diets high in protein have been the staple for many athletes and bodybuilders over the years.  Protein is the essential building block for muscles and increases size, strength and power. A very good thing for athletes and anyone who exercises regularly.  But can we have too much of a good thing?  That seems to be a common belief among people who argue that high protein diets can cause health problems like kidney dysfunction and osteoporosis.

Let’s take a look at what actual research has been done on high protein diets to clear up some of the myths about associated health problems.

There is no evidence linking high protein diets to kidney problems in healthy people

No studies have shown that high protein consumption can cause kidney dysfunction in healthy people.  As Dr John Berardi notes, “there is absolutely no data in healthy adults suggesting that a high protein intake causes the onset of renal (kidney) dysfunction. There aren’t even any correlational studies showing this effect in healthy people.” The only research that shows a correlation between high protein intake and kidney problems is in people who are already suffering from kidney disease.  So for those who have kidney disease, a high protein diet may not be advisable.  But there is no reason to believe that this is the case in healthy people.

Studies actually show health benefits from high protein diets

Bone health:  some people believe that high protein can cause a loss of calcium and lead to problems like osteoporosis.  But when studies were done to test this belief, they actually found the opposite to be true, with a “positive association between protein intake and bone mineral density”.

Blood pressure: large studies in the US [1, 2] and China [3] have found a negative relationship between blood pressure and the amount of protein consumed – indicating that high protein diets are associated with low blood pressure.

Heart disease: a 14 year study of over 80,000 women found “that replacing carbohydrates with protein may be associated with a lower risk of ischemic heart disease”.  This is truer in cases where protein comes from lean sources like chicken, fish and vegetables, and less so in cases where protein comes from high cholesterol and saturated fat sources (pork, beef, lamb, eggs, etc.).

Liver function: protein in needed for liver tissue repair and high protein diets have been found to be beneficial for people suffering from liver disease.

We are genetically designed to consume high protein diets

As mentioned in my previous blog about the caveman diet, proponents argue that developments in food have far outpaced human genes.  We are built to eat unprocessed foods, like fruits, vegetables, nuts and lean meats. Palaeolithic diets were high in protein – around 3 to 4 times more protein that in modern diets.  Arguing in favour of the cavemen diet, Dr Anssi Manninen from University of Oulu in Finland states, “it is implausible that an animal that adapted to a high protein diet for 5 million years suddenly in 10,000 years becomes a predominant carbohydrate burner.”

drink water

May 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Whether you pay attention to it or not, water affects every aspect of our lives – from sanitation to cooking to, well, you.  About 70% of our bodyweight is water.  We can’t live without it.  But many people aren’t getting enough.  This is the case not just in developing countries where it is difficult to access safe drinking water, but also in developed countries where clean water is plentiful.  In fact, a study shows that up to 27% of people in the US might suffer from chronic dehydration.

So what?

Well, here’s a list of problems you’re more likely to encounter if you’re not drinking enough water:

  • Cancers (urinary tract, colon and breast)
  • Heart disease (mitral valve prolapse)
  • Kidney stones
  • Childhood obesity
  • Diminished mental and physical performance
  • Diminished salivary gland function

But how much water is ‘enough’?  The very helpful answer is: it depends.  It depends on your weight, food consumption, physical activity, environment and diuretic consumption (caffeine and alcohol).   As a guide, you should be drinking 1ml of water per calorie of food.  So, if you’re eating 2,500 calories per day that means you should be drinking 2.5L of water per day.  However, approximately 1L of that will come from food (especially fruits and vegetables) and another 250ml coming from the water of oxidation.  That leaves 1.25L, or 5 cups, that needs to come from drinking water.  Follow?

However, these are the calculations for an inactive individual.  If you/’re doing exercise then you are sweating more and need to drink more.  A rough guide is to consume 1L of water per hour of exercise.  So, want to figure out how much water you should be drinking per day?  Try this calculation:

[Number of calories/1,000] + [hours of exercise x 1] – 1.25 (fluids from food and oxidation) = number of litres per day

So, if I eat 2,800 calories per day and exercise for 45mins, my water intake calculation will be:

[2,800 calories/1,000] + [0.75 x 1] – 1.25
2.8                 +      0.75     – 1.25  =  2.3L

So, I would need to drink 2.3L, or about 9 cups, of water per day to keep my fluid levels constant and avoid dehydration.  This doesn’t account for diuretics like coffee and alcohol, which actually create a negative fluid effect – which is why a late night drinking session can result in headaches and vomiting, which are symptoms of dehydration.  Make sure you drink even more water if you’re drinking caffeine and alcoholic drinks – you’ll be glad the next morning!

Dehydration occurs with as little as 1%-2% loss of bodyweight from fluids.  Even just 1% loss impairs exercise performance.  That means non-diuretic fluid intake (from water, sports drinks, etc) must be enough to keep bodyweight constant for optimal physical performance.  So when you’re at the gym, running, or whatever, make sure you’re drinking something to replenish your lost fluids.  There is plenty more to say about ideal exercise drinks (e.g. protein and carbohydrate combinations), but I will leave that for a future blog.

Always err on the side of too much water if you’re in doubt as to how much you need to drink.  You can use the urine test as a crude method for judging how hydrated you are: dark is dehydrated and pale is adequately hydrated.  Just remember that more exercise, food and diuretics (coffee, alcohol) mean more water is needed.  So drink up.

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