Organic, Free Range, Grass Fed, and More

Grass FedThese days, the topic of what’s in food is probably less important than what you’re likely to hear about food. People can go for years without discussing their diets, but it’s practically impossible to go a day without hearing terms like organic, omega, or carb. Upon hearing one of these terms, you’ve found evidence that advertisers have used their market research tools and, thus, determined that they need to shove these words down your throat, especially since you probably have no idea what they mean. You see, as long as you don’t know what they mean, they can spin them however they like. Spin: it’s not just for politicians anymore. But these terms do have meaning. And once you understand them, they can help you make smarter food choices.

Foods without labels
Some foods don’t require a label, which makes them harder to spin. These are mainly very fresh and haven’t been tampered with so, in general, they are your healthy alternatives. The spin doctors here play both sides of the fence. When it comes to non-labeled foods, the important issue is how these foods were raised. When it became clear that the reason certain companies could offer lower-priced goods was because they used inferior raising methods, those who didn’t use inferior methods began using terms to help distinguish themselves. When this affected the business of the former, they jumped into the fray and the spin games began. But that’s getting ahead of our topic. Let’s begin by defining which foods don’t require labels.

First are foods like apples, oranges, broccoli, and many other things that you can buy in the state that they come from the earth. Known as fruits, vegetables, and herbs, they’re entirely different than that soda you just bought with “real fruit flavor.” These foods have parts that aren’t really foods, either. Called fiber, it’s the indigestible part of a plant. It has no nutrient value, but it’s still an ultra-important part of your diet because it does all kinds of things, including cleaning out our digestive tract and soaking up excess cholesterol. It’s very important that our diets feature plants. They are loaded with nutrients and fiber and have no man-made ingredients (okay, some have pesticides, which we’ll get to in a minute). When we do things like cook or make juice from these items, they lose their nutrients and fiber, and get a label.

Next are grains and legumes. Things like rice and beans—also plants—these foods have more protein and calories than fruits and veggies. They are less easily found in their natural state. Rice, for example, often has its shell stripped, so it’s white. Grains get turned into breads and crackers, often at the expense of their healthiest ingredients. Beans get smashed and have things added to them. As a rule, the closer you can get a legume or grain to its original state, the better it is for you.

Finally, we have meats and dairy products. Nowadays, unless you live on a farm, you probably have to buy these with labels. That’s mainly due to suspect growing and harvesting practices. This topic is mainly one for Politics class, but we’re going to look at the consumer end of it next. Hey! What are you rolling your eyes at? Yes, you, the guy in the white suit taking up two seats. What are you dressed like that for? Going to the Kentucky Derby after class? Well, pal. I believe that this subject concerns you more than anyone, so pay attention.

These animal products are loaded with protein, vitamins, and sometimes carbs and healthy fats. But we need to be careful with them because meats (other than fish) and dairy products have a lot of saturated fat. You can buy all of these products with much of this fat removed. For the most part, this is recommended, which we’ll cover in the “fat-free” portion of the lecture later on.

Organic and other terms for natural foods
Now it’s time to get to some good jargon. You’ve heard all of these terms, probably while you’ve been considering buying any of the aforementioned food items. But just what do they mean?

Organic
Organic means living, so organic foods are supposed to be alive or, at least, recently alive. Originally, “organic” meant produce that hadn’t been sprayed with inorganic things, like pesticides. But now you’ll see “organic ingredients” in boxed, jarred, and canned foods, which can be confusing. Organic was once a term used only by the folks who showed up at your weekly farmers’ market. Then, word started to get out about large-scale farmers spraying nasty pesticides on their crops, pesticides that would still be on those crops when we bought them. Most people are pretty sure they don’t want to eat something made to kill animals, so when the little “organic” guys’ businesses started to feel the impact, the big guys just started slapping an “organic” label on anything, until the government had to step in.

Now we have an imperfect system. Organic rules can be fudged to some degree, but it seems to be getting better and not worse. It’s made the large growers a bit more cognizant about what they add to or spray on their crops. Organic has also trickled up. So now packaged foods using “organic ingredients” are labeled as such. But be prudent because the fine print will tell you how much is organic. Lobbyists haggle over how much organic stuff needs to be in a product for the word “organic” to appear on the label, and the amount has changed and will continue to change. So you can see a product with a big “organic” on its label with very little organic inside.

Also, many farmers claim that organic growing remains behind the times. They argue that their products don’t seem to grow as healthily using organic standards because the classification needs reworking. This is no doubt true, as we’ll probably never be able to create a perfect system.

Bottom line: “Organic” on a label is probably better, but you should read the fine print. The more concerned the farmer or rancher, the more information they want to provide. A company that spends a lot of effort to list its practices is probably better than one that won’t go to the trouble. As a general rule, those going out of their way to meet organic standards probably care more. It’s not perfect, but buying “organic” still stacks the odds in your favor.

Grass fed
Cattle were once all grass fed. They lived on prairies and ate grass, ’cause that’s all there was to eat. On the prairie, that grass is nutrient rich because of the soil. Cattle that ate it grew big and strong, and when we ate them, we grew big and strong. Then, some guy figured out that cattle, if they had to, would eat grain. This meant he could build houses and strip malls on the prairie, put the cattle into little fenced areas and feed them grain, and make a lot more money. The downside was that grain didn’t have the same nutrient value (like eating Krispy Kreme doughnuts instead of broccoli), so the cows weren’t so big and strong. To make them look like they once did, he started shooting them with things like steroids, so that the cattle started looking like Jose Conseco, and all was good in the world. Except that when we ate the cattle, they didn’t have the same nutrient value. This meant we ate the same calories with less nutrient value. When this happened, we got fat.

For a while, we were none the wiser. Then, people started getting sick and dying because some genius, low on grain, started feeding cows parts of other cows mixed with the grain to make more money. Cows aren’t carnivorous, like animals with sharp teeth, so this didn’t work well and bad stuff like E. coli started showing up in meat. Anyway, feeding cows other cows is now against the law, but lobbyists were also able to make a deal in which it’s nearly impossible for meat companies to be sued, so who knows what they’re actually up to.

Bottom line: Even though meat lobbyists have been hammering away at the “grass fed” requirements, it still means that the meat is likely to be much better in quality.

Free range
Cattle weren’t the only animals out on the prairie. Birds were there, too. In fact, birds were all over the place because they have wings and can, you know, fly. This became problematic when folks decided they wanted to raise them on farms. You listening, Colonel? Figuring that if birds couldn’t fly and, well, they would then need no space at all, “farmers” started loading them all together in tiny little pens. Irritated—naturally—the birds would peck at each other and cause general turmoil, so good ol’ Foster the farmer put them in little cages wherein they couldn’t get at each other—for their entire lives!

Since this isn’t Animal Cruelty class, let’s just talk about how healthy these birds are when they grow up and we eat them. When you get out and exercise, how does that help you? Hmm, since some of you can’t answer this, I’ll tell you. You get healthier. Your body systems work better and you get more muscle. Muscle is meat, like the part of a chicken that we want to eat. If you sit in a small room for a long time, how do you tend to look or feel? Answer: You get fat. You get sick. You die young. Take two chickens. Let one run around and eat stuff it finds growing out of the ground. Put the other in a 2-foot-square box and feed it junk food. Which one do you want to eat?

Bottom line: Only eat free-range fowl, which is harder than ever to find now that new grades of distinction have surfaced. Again, to stay on top of it, you’ll need to stay educated. To reiterate, the more concerned the company, the more likely they will want to educate you.

Farm raised
This term has to do with fish. For those of you who are confused, that is natural. Fish live in water. We live on land. How the heck do we farm them? The obvious answer is to put them in big aquariums, but that would be too expensive. Instead, they raise fish in fenced-off areas and treat them a bit like the birds mentioned above. This tends to cause a lot of damage for the ecosystem in general, but this isn’t Environment class. We don’t offer environment classes because they don’t help your standardized testing. Anyway, the effect on the fish depends a lot on the type of fish. Some, like catfish that naturally live in sluggish conditions, do okay, while others, like salmon, do terribly. In fact, salmon are migratory and swim for most of their lives. Keeping them in a “tank” wreaks havoc on their lifestyle. Farm-raised salmon don’t even have red meat, like they do naturally, and are dyed red for market. Do you really want to eat fish that’s been dyed red?

Bottom line: Avoid farm-raised fish when possible. Always avoid farm-raised salmon.

Local
Some of you are no doubt wondering why this rather boring-sounding label is taking up more shelf space lately. After all, isn’t the gourmand taught to eat from exotic and far-off lands? Who, with ample means, wouldn’t always opt for Maine lobster, Norwegian caviar, and water from New Zealand?

One concerned for the health of the planet might be the obvious answer. You don’t have to be Al Gore to deduce that using 500,000 gallons of gas so that you can sip from a melting glacier near Christchurch might create a ripple effect with negative implications for the planet. Buying locally allows us to play watchdog. It’s easy to check out your local dairy. Just ask around. You don’t even need to research. Good businesses tend to get talked about in the community. And if you suspect that a local business is wielding a bit too much power and influence over your neighbors, that’s probably all the information you need. But your local Chambers of Commerce, Better Business Bureaus, and independent news organizations are keen to help out should your scuttlebutt network not be broad enough.

Bottom line: Local companies should always be considered first.

Fish Oil: Nature’s Miracle Ingredient

Fish Oil
For a number of years now, I’ve been telling our members that the simplest way to improve their diets is to take fish oil for its omega-3 content. I’m happy to announce that we’ve developed a fish oil supplement that’s up to Beachbody’s strict standards. Let’s take a brief look at what fish oil is and how it will improve your diet and your health, and why you will benefit from Beachbody’s all-new fish oil supplement, Core Omega-3™.

Fish oil is made up of two long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. These are hard to find in the modern American diet and, thus, our bodies tend to lack necessary omega-3 levels, leading to myriad poor health conditions. Though our diets may not satisfy our omega-3 needs, fish oil supplementation can prove helpful and has been linked to multiple benefits, including:
• Heart health and normal cholesterol levels
• Immune system health, improved mood and memory, joint health, blood sugar health, and stress relief
• Increased energy levels and greater cognitive function
• Nutritional support for pregnant women
• Regular cell growth and division
• Skeletal system strength
• Healthy inflammatory response

Why fish oil?
To reiterate, fish contains two omega-3 fatty acids. They are DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), which are hard to find elsewhere and support healthy cardiovascular and immune health. ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), another omega-3 fatty acid, can be found more readily, but ALA is not easily converted into EPA and DHA. Flaxseed is an example of a good omega-3 source that is all ALA. While flaxseed is healthy, fish oil is a far more efficient way to get your omega-3.

While you could just eat fish for your omega-3 needs, there is a downside—mercury contamination. Doctors now recommend limiting the number of servings of fish you have in a week. A good fish oil supplement puts you at no risk for mercury poisoning. For this reason, care should be taken when choosing a good fish oil supplement.

Health benefits of fish oil
The benefits of the omega-3 oils found in fish oil are still being studied. These benefits seem to begin at conception and increase throughout one’s life—including contributing to a reduction in Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have hinted at advantages like increased intelligence levels, fewer headaches, reduced incidences of and pain from arthritis, heart disease protection, fewer occurrences of depression and bipolar disorder, and even protection from breast cancer and prostate cancer.

In Europe, patients who survive heart attacks are typically given a prescription for purified fish oil, which has significantly improved the survival rate. One study of 11,000 patients showed a 20 percent reduction in deaths and a 40 percent reduction in sudden deaths for those who took fish oil. Studies done in 2003 at Harvard Medical showed that taking fish oil on a daily basis can help protect the heart from damage and disease. Recent human trials have proven that when using fish oil that includes EPA and DHA, you can expect a decrease in the incidence of and the pain associated with inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, colitis, and cystitis.

Further studies suggest that fish oil intake during pregnancy can contribute to healthy pregnancies, and omega-3 supplementation, along with the restriction of omega-6, helps support brain function and mood both during pregnancy and post-partum. Infant formulas are beginning to include DHA as studies suggest improved cognitive function in adults who were breast-fed up to nine months while the mother was supplementing with fish oils. After conception, the new baby’s brain calls on the mother’s store of omega-3 fatty acids to develop a healthy brain. Fish has always been rumored as a “brain food.” What’s interesting is that recent research has shown that nearly 70 percent of a baby’s brain and more than 60 percent of an adult brain are made up of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, like DHA, that come from fish.

Fat as a supplement
Fat as a supplement is a tough pill for many to swallow (pun intended) because our most basic sense of aesthetics tends to confuse dietary fat with body fat percentage. As we’ve stated many times, these two things are not the same. Your calories come from proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. And these are needed in the proper ratio to maximize your body’s functional capabilities. But all carbs, proteins, and fats are not created equal; and it’s probably more variable in the fat category than the others. The types of fats we tend to consume on a daily basis don’t give us the nutrients we need to fulfill our bodies’ potentials. Therefore, like with any nutrient we’re lacking, supplementing is a good option.

The skinny on fat
We need dietary fat to be healthy. But our diets don’t often provide us with good dietary fat and, thus, our diets lack balance. We should maintain close to a 1:1 ratio between our omega-3 and our omega-6 consumption; however, it’s estimated that the typical American diet is somewhere between 1:20 and 1:50! When you look at the list of benefits above and the things preventing this harmonious ratio (and leading to out-of-balance diets), it’s no wonder we have so many health problems related to improper fat consumption.

How much do I need?
It’s estimated that nearly 20 percent of Americans have such low levels of DHA and EPA that test methods are unable to detect any in their blood. Recommended intakes of DHA and EPA have not been established by the FDA. The American Heart Association recommends two servings of fish per week to support cardiovascular health. The American College of Cardiology recommends that heart patients increase their intake of omega-3 fatty acids to 1 gram a day. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that adults consume at least 1,000 mg (1 gram) a day of pure omega-3 fish oil and 1,200 mg for pregnant and nursing mothers.

How do I make sure it’s safe?
International fish oil standards are increasingly being regulated, but it’s important, at this stage, to ensure that you chose a brand committed to the highest quality and the strictest purity guidelines. The two most important criteria are that your brand is free of mercury, PCBs, and other contaminants and that the fish are exposed to low oxidation levels during processing. Since there is no regulatory agency doing this on a broad scale, it’s important to spend a little time researching your brand of choice.

As far as our supplements go, quality is our most important criteria, and this is true of Core Omega-3. According to Beachbody Nutritionals Director of Product Development, Aaron Lowe, “It’s safe to say that the oil is protected from oxygen during processing and tested for impurities during the entire process. There is a certain baseline it has to meet before it even undergoes processing, and if it does not meet this spec, it’s not accepted for production.” To further drive this point home, Lowe adds, “Who are you going to trust with your health? Beachbody has built a reputation of providing excellent products and our nutritional supplements are no exception. Our customers can trust our products for their friends and families because we trust our products for our friends and families too.”

Top 5 Superfoods for Sex and Healing

Top 5 Superfoods for Sex and HealingSuperfoods are the most potent, nutrient-rich foods on the planet. They are great for improving overall health, boosting immunity, enhancing sexuality, lowering inflammation, alkalizing the body, and more.

1. Cacao (raw chocolate) [In Shakeology]

Cacao is the highest antioxidant food on the planet! It’s very nutrient dense, loaded with magnesium, iron, and anandamide (also known as the “bliss chemical”). It can be used in a powder form for smoothies, or the bean (cacao nib) can be sprinkled atop your favorite ingredients. Raw chocolate improves cardiovascular health, is a natural aphrodisiac, lifts mood, decreases depression and increases overall wellbeing.

2. Goji Berries (Wolfberries)

The Goji berry is the top Chinese medicine and has been used for over 5,000 years. (Why are we not eating Goji berries instead of processed raisins?!) Goji berries contain 18 amino acids, including all eight essential amino acids. They are also very nutrient dense with up to 21 trace minerals and high amounts of antioxidants. They are best purchased moist and certified organic.

3. Maca [In Shakeology]

Maca increases energy, endurance, strength and libido, and also helps with fatigue, infertility, symptoms of menopause, and sexual dysfunction. It is typically taken as a pill or a liquid extract or a powdered root.

4. Camu Camu Berry [In Shakeology]

The camu camu berry provides 50 times more Vitamin-C than an orange. It’s also one of the most nutrient-dense berries and is great for building immunity, rebuilding tissues, purifying the blood, and increasing energy. With Flu Season right around the corner, consuming Camu-Camu should be part of your daily ritual.

5. Medicinal Mushrooms (Reishi, Chaga, Shiitake, etc.)

These are typically tree mushrooms and are some of the best superfoods on the planet! In particular, the reishi mushroom has some amazing benefits: it can boost the immune system, decrease blood pressure, decrease cholesterol, decrease chronic fatigue and help with chronic lung conditions such as asthma. They are great for many people, and even good for babies.

Pop Goes the Diet—The Worst Food in the World

Soda
Since all great things come in threes (or is it celebrity deaths?), we’re going to complete our sugar trilogy with a look at the worst food in the world: soda pop. Forget about brands; whether it’s Coke, Dr. Pepper, or even Hansen’s Natural, it’s all junk. There are different degrees of “junkiness,” but this is Nutrition 911, so we’re sticking with the bird’s-eye perspective. The taste might make you happy, but from a nutritional point of view, soda’s only place in the world is to make people fat, sick, and unhappy.

Alarming statistics
In America, we drink a lot of cola (or “un-cola”). A lot. On average, we each drank 52.4 gallons in 2005, and this figure includes infants, healthy folks, prisoners, etc., meaning that the average soda drinker actually gulps (their word) more than this. Carbonated soft drinks are the biggest single caloric source in the American diet. Teenagers in particular are hooked on the stuff and get an average of 13 percent of their daily calories from “pop.” If this doesn’t scare you, it should. In terms of sheer amount, these statistics could be alarming if it were any one food. A proper diet should have some balance and diversity. And soda pop is the antithesis of “any food.” It’s bad food.

“Empty calories”
We use the term “empty calories” for foods like soda that have no place in a nutritious diet. This term is ridiculously misleading. The calories in soda are far from empty. Most of them come from sugar. In the U.S., it’s nearly always high fructose corn syrup, the cheapest, most processed sugar on the market. Other ingredients include caffeine, various phosphates and acids, and artificial colorings. We’ll get to their effects on the human body in a minute, but first, let’s stick to the simple stuff. Per day, the average teenager consumes between 10 and 15 teaspoons of refined sugar via soda—which, according to government standards, is about their daily requirement for all foods. This means that for the average teenager, his or her soda consumption virtually eliminates his or her chances of eating a balanced diet. There’s nothing empty about that.

Weird science
The soda companies are a marketing juggernaut. They spend roughly $700 million a year on media advertising alone—not to mention hundreds of millions more sponsoring events, athletes, musicians, and such. This volume of cash makes it difficult for consumers to avoid them, by design. To avoid the temptation to drink Coke, you’ve got to be highly principled or living in the middle of the jungle. And even then, well, I once happened upon a soda vending machine halfway up Mount Yarigatake in the Japanese Alps, and a friend traveling in Guatemala found Coke in a rural area that didn’t have running water. Let’s just say that soda companies are going to continue making it easy for you to find the stuff. This type of marketing machine won’t go away quietly. With the stats listed above, you could certainly put two and two together and link soda companies to the childhood (and adult) obesity epidemic that is arguably the world’s most serious health crisis. Yet, while researching this article, I came across a widely published “study” stating that “soft drink consumption has no effect on childhood obesity.” Suspicious from the get-go (the word “no” being a huge red flag), it didn’t take me long to find this statement: “The research paper was supported by an unrestricted gift from the American Beverage Association.” Bingo. Remember those Philip Morris tobacco “studies” that promised a long and healthy life from chain smoking?

What makes it so bad?
Besides the simple caloric trade-off, sodas are formulated to give you a rush. The sugar is mixed with phosphates designed to speed it into your system. It’s so good, in fact, that many cyclists prefer Coca-Cola to specific sports food when they need a sugar rush near the end of races. And while a sugar rush is a good thing when you’re trying to exceed your anaerobic threshold and you’re out of blood glycogen (never mind if you don’t know what this is), it’s a bad thing whenever you’re not, which even for a competitive cyclist is 99.9 percent of the time.

Beyond the simple sugar rush, these acids and phosphates alter your body’s pH levels and inhibit the absorption of other nutrients. Then there are the effects of certain artificial coloring agents. For example, yellow #5, commonly used in soft drinks, has been linked to attention deficit disorder, hives, asthma, and other allergic reactions in some children.

Then there is the nutrient trade-off to consider. A person who drinks one Big Gulp per day must go to great lengths to maintain a balanced diet. Otherwise, he or she will almost certainly be deficient in numerous vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, and essential fatty or amino acids—none of which is found in soda. For this reason, soda is often linked to type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, dental erosion, and a higher risk of kidney stones and heart disease. And that’s just a start. There’s plenty of less scientific data linking soda to poor scholastic habits, which we’ll get to in a later class.

Diet sodas and juices
In an attempt to become thought of as healthier, soda companies have diversified into non-carbonated beverages and diet sodas. While these are an improvement in some ways, they are hardly a solution to the problem. First off, most juices and other caloric non-soda alternatives are mainly just sugar and water without the carbonation. A quick label comparison between a commercial orange juice and a Mountain Dew would show a similar “bottom line” with regards to calories and sugar. The only improvement would be the lack of the non-caloric offenders. But that’s no small matter, as the true effects of these ingredients have not been thoroughly studied. Despite their no-calorie status, diet sodas have been linked to assorted illnesses. Recent studies have backed up my more anecdotal evidence that I’ve yet to have a client not lose weight by kicking diet soda. Granted, all of my clients drank an excessive amount, but regardless, there is little doubt that the pH balance of diet sodas hinders the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, and that just may be the tip of the non-caloric iceberg.

A large-scale study in 2007 showed that men and women who had more than one diet soda a day were 31 percent more likely to be obese and 25 percent more likely to have both high triglycerides and blood sugar, and they had a 50 percent greater risk of developing metabolic syndrome. Never mind if you don’t know what metabolic syndrome is. Just trust me when I tell you that you don’t want it.

How can you help?
In my world, soft drinks would come with the same type of regulatory language as cigarettes and booze, at least. Actually, in my world, we’d all be educated and wouldn’t require this language at all, but that’s Politics 911, not Nutrition 911. Anyway, here are five ways you can help educate the public about the dangers of soda, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Contact your local government officials and/or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and suggest that:
1. National and local governments should require chain restaurants to declare the calorie content of soft drinks and all other items on menus and menu boards.
2. The FDA should require labels on non-diet soft drinks to state that frequent consumption of those drinks promotes obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, osteoporosis, and other health problems.
3. Local, state, and federal governments should provide water fountains in schools, government buildings, parks, and other public spaces.
4. School systems and other organizations catering to children should stop selling soft drinks (as well as candy and other junk foods) in hallways, shops, and cafeterias.
5. State and local governments should consider levying small taxes on soft drinks, with the revenues earmarked for promoting health and fitness. A national 2-cent tax on a can of soda pop would raise $3 billion annually.

Are you scared yet? You should be. Or you could just stop drinking soda. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

Spice it up to lose weight

Spice it up to lose weightSpices are a great way to add flavor to recipes and meals without added calories or salt. Some spices have a thermogenic effect, which means eating them boosts metabolism so you actually burn some extra calories eating certain spicy dishes. Try experimenting with these:

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is a delicious way to add sweetness to a dish without having to use sugar. It is also a great spice to cook with and can add a lightly spicy taste to savory dishes. Several studies, including one published in the Diabetes Care Journal, have shown that cinnamon can boost weight loss. The weight loss properties of cinnamon stem from the ability to help keep blood sugar levels under control, therefore decreasing the amount of insulin produced after a meal. Higher levels of unnecessary insulin result in the production of excess fat. Cinnamon has also been found to slow down gastric emptying, making you feel full longer.

Cayenne

This piquant spice contains capsaicin, which has long been regarded for its fat burning ability. Cayenne has thermogenic properties that increase calorie burning. It also helps with weight loss simply because the spicier a food is, the less you eat and slower you eat – so you feel full on less food. If you don’t care for spicy pepper, evidence has shown that even sweet peppers have a thermogenic effect, boosting calorie burning in the body. Cayenne also increases fat oxidation, helping you shed unwanted body fat.

Black Pepper

A staple in any cooks’ kitchen, not only jazzes up a recipe, but it helps boost metabolism by as much as 8 percent because of the compound, piperine, found in black pepper. This spice has been shown to aid in digestion and nutrient absorption. To maximize the results, use fresh black pepper instead of ground pepper.

Mustard Seed

Just like the hot spice cayenne – mustard seed also has a thermogenic effect on the body. According to a Canadian study, eating spicy foods such as mustard seed can burn an extra 1,000 calories a day, with one tea spoon potentially boosting your metabolism by 25 percent.

Ginger

Not only is ginger delicious with just about everything, it also has been found to help with weight loss and satiety. According to a study at Columbia University and the New York Obesity Research Center, adding one teaspoon of dried ground ginger to a meal or having a cup of ginger tea with breakfast resulted in 43 more calories burned after eating.

Recovery Done Right: 8 Ways to Prevent Muscle Soreness

Gym RecoveryAching after a brutal workout? Delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) can make you feel the burn while your muscles recover and rebuild. But, if you take the right steps after your workout, you can go hard without paying the price. Here are 8 easy ways to prevent postworkout pain.

Stretch. Stretching is your first line of defense after a good workout. “When you train, you contract the muscles, and the muscle fibers get shorter,” says Steve Edwards, Head of Fitness and Nutrition Development at Beachbody®. “Lengthening them after a workout promotes mobility, and can lead to a more thorough recovery.” While fitness experts can’t seem to agree on this strategy[1]—one Australian study[2] claimed that stretching had no impact on muscle soreness—it certainly won’t hurt, especially if your flexibility is limited.

Eat for rapid recovery. In a study on “nutrient timing,” researchers found that a postworkout drink with between a 3:1 to 5:1 carb-to-protein ratio reduced muscle damage and improved recovery times[3]. A tough workout depletes blood sugar, as well as the glycogen stored in your muscles. Restoring that supply within an hour of finishing your workout is your body’s top priority. P90X® Results and Recovery Formula® is optimized with the 4:1 ratio, but in a pinch, down a glass of grape juice with whey protein powder or a glass of chocolate milk. Denis Faye, Beachbody’s Nutrition Expert, explains. “When the sugar [from the drink] rushes into your muscles to restore that supply, the protein piggybacks to jump-start the recovery process.”

Ice it. Immediately after a tough workout, icing your muscles can stave off inflammation. “Inflammation is one of nature’s defense mechanisms, but it works like a cast—it immobilizes you,” Edwards says. “When you keep inflammation down, that area is free to keep moving, and movement promotes healing.” Like stretching, its effectiveness is up for debate—some researchers have claimed that ice is only effective for injuries and not for run-of-the-mill soreness[4], but it’s a simple and safe option that many top-level athletes swear by[5]. “Unless you ice so long that you give yourself frostbite, there’s really no danger,” Edwards says. “It seems to really speed up healing without any adverse effects.”

Change your diet. “When your muscles are sore, inflammation is a huge part of the problem,” Faye says. To help reduce this inflammation, add foods that are rich in omega-3s—such as salmon, free-range meat, flax, avocado, and walnuts[6]—to your diet. The natural anti-inflammatory properties[7] of these foods can help dial back the soreness after overexertion. Amino acid supplements can also help with muscle recovery after a high-intensity workout[8].

Massage your sore spots. A recent study found that massage can reduce inflammatory compounds called cytokines[9]. One type of massage that’s gaining popularity is myofascial release, which targets the connective tissue covering the muscles. You can hit these areas yourself using a foam roller—put the roller on the floor, use your body weight to apply pressure, and roll back and forth over the sore areas for about 60 seconds. But . . . before you do, make sure you’re rehydrated and your heart rate is back to normal. “When your muscles are hot and loaded with lactic acid, you might make it worse,” Edwards says. For a more detailed tutorial on foam rolling, check out the Beachbody Tai Cheng® program.

Get heated. While ice can work wonders immediately after a workout, heat can help once your muscles have returned to their resting temperature[10]. “Heat increases circulation, especially focused heat in a jacuzzi, where you can hit areas like joints that don’t normally get a lot of circulation,” Edwards says. Just don’t jump in the hot tub immediately after a workout, because the heat can exacerbate inflammation, and the jets can pound your already-damaged muscles. Edwards cautions, “When your body heat is already high and you have a lot of muscle breakdown, sitting in a hot tub with the jets would be counterintuitive.”

Move it. You may be tempted to plant yourself on the couch until the pain subsides, but don’t skip your next workout. Circulation promotes healing, so it helps to get your heart pumping—just don’t overdo it. “Active recovery” is low-intensity exercise that gets your blood flowing without taxing your muscles. What qualifies as low-intensity? It depends on your typical workout. If you know your training zones, you can use a heart rate monitor. But, Edwards says, the easiest way to engage in active recovery is to exert around 50% of your max effort, and keep your heart rate below 140 bpm or so. Most Beachbody workout programs include a recovery workout, but if yours doesn’t, a gentle yoga class or going on an easy hike are good options.

Pop a painkiller—if you must. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen can relieve pain, but many experts aren’t sure if they’re worth the risk. “A lot of athletes call it ‘Vitamin I,'” Edwards says. But he cautions that NSAIDs can cause nasty side effects and accelerate muscle breakdown. “The only time they might help is if you’re in so much pain that you can’t do low-level exercise—you can’t get off the couch,” Edwards says. In that case, meds might help, but be careful not to overdo it—because if you’re not feeling pain, you may push too hard and cause an injury.

Resources:

[1] http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/news/20071017/stretching-wont-prevent-sore-muscles?page=2
[2] http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071016195932.htm
[3] http://www.utexas.edu/features/archive/2004/nutrition.html
[4] http://www.upmc.com/Services/sports-medicine/newsletter/Pages/ice-after-exercise.aspx
[5] http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/20/really-the-claim-an-ice-bath-can-soothe-sore-muscles/
[6] http://www.webmd.com/diet/ss/slideshow-omega-3-health-benefits
[7] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16531187
[8] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20300014
[9] http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/06/how-massage-heals-sore-muscles
[10] http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/29108.php

Roma Tomato Pasta

Roma Tomato PastaWhen you’re dying for carbs, this healthy dish delivers – with flavor to spare

Whole grain foods are often perceived as being healthy, but not particularly tasty. The carbs associated with pasta dishes often get a bad rap, too. But the right carbs, in the right amount and at the right time, are as important to building muscle as consuming protein. Additionally, modern whole grain pastas are much more flavorful, have a much better texture, and contain many vital nutrients. The USDA, in fact, recommends that people eat at least three servings of whole grains, such as those found in pasta, every day.

This month’s recipe will show you that, with the right ingredients and simple preparation, whole wheat pasta can taste great and fit into a lot of muscle-building diet plans, including carb cycling and carb back-loading.

What you’ll need
• Large pot
• Kitchen knife
• Spatula
• Wooden spoon
• Sauté pan (approx. 12 to 14 inches)

Ingredients
½ cup red onion, chopped
1 tbsp parsley, minced
2 tbsp garlic, minced
1 cup balsamic vinaigrette
1 tbsp chili paste
1 cup roma tomatoes, chopped
1 tbsp grapeseed oil
3 cups whole wheat pasta, cooked
2 cups watercress, chopped
½ cup fresh mint, thinly sliced
¼ cup fresh basil, thinly sliced
Optional: low-fat shredded cheese

Directions

1) In a large bowl, toss onion, parsley, garlic, vinaigrette, chili paste, tomatoes, and grape seed oil; mix well. Over medium-high heat, pour the mixture into a large sauté pan, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until onions are translucent, stirring continuously.

2) Bring water to a boil in a medium pot (large enough to accommodate about 3 cups of cooked pasta). Cook pasta until it reaches the desired tenderness. Drain, and set aside until sauce is finished. You can add a splash of grape seed oil to the pasta to keep it from sticking.

3) Once the onion-tomato mixture has cooked, remove half the liquid and add cooked pasta and watercress. Cover and reduce heat to low. Allow pasta-vegetable mixture to simmer for 4 to 5 minutes; remove from heat and uncover. Portion to bowls and finish with mint and basil. If desired, you can also sprinkle a little low-fat cheese on top. To boost the protein content, add a couple of slices of grilled chicken.

Yields: 6 servings

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 1 bowl
Calories 101, Carbs 17g
Protein 3g, Fat 3g

What and When You Should Eat

Clock
It’s not just what you eat but when you eat that matters. The perfect food for one situation may be horrible for another. Nutrient timing is a science that athletes use to try to get the most out of every calorie they consume. Not everyone needs an athlete’s level of efficiency, but all of us will benefit from a basic understanding of nutrient timing.

This is 911, need-to-know info only. To keep you focused on the big picture, I’ll begin with an example at the extreme end of nutrient timing. If the average Joe followed the same diet as an Ironman triathlete, he’d likely have type 2 diabetes in a matter of months. Conversely, if someone tried to complete an Ironman on even the healthiest version of a low-carb diet, that person would either be forced to quit or die. This is not just because either diet would mean eating too much food or too little food. Different foods cause the body’s metabolic process to react in different ways; and various activities should be fueled using various means.

Let’s begin by looking at our possible fuel sources:
Carbohydrates
Are fuel only. They aren’t stored in body tissue, only in the blood and liver as glycogen, which needs to be burnt off. They are essential for high-level functioning like running fast, lifting heavy things, and thinking. They are digested and put to use by your body very quickly. If you eat more than you burn, your body will convert them to be stored in adipose (fat) tissue.

Proteins
Called the body’s building blocks. Hence, you need them to rebuild tissue that breaks down daily. You digest proteins slowly, and at a certain point, your body just can’t assimilate them. Therefore, it’s important that throughout the day you eat foods that are high in protein.

Fats
Help regulate all of your bodily functions. They are dense and contain over twice the calories of proteins and carbohydrates. While they are vital for our health, it’s easy to eat too much of them, which will result in unwanted fat tissue on your body. You digest fats slowly, and fats will also help slow the digestion of anything else you eat. Fats are also your backup fuel source, though they can’t be put to use right away the way carbs can.

Fiber
Categorized as a carbohydrate, it is not a source of fuel as it has no calories. It’s the indigestible part of a plant and is of vital importance in your diet because it regulates the absorption of the foods you eat. It also helps us feel full. Most of us don’t eat enough fiber, and that’s a big part of the obesity problem.

Alcohol
Not really a food source but something we tend to consume. It has nearly twice the calories of proteins and carbs (though it lacks fuel) and digests rapidly. Its only healthy function is that it seems to make us happy. Studies indicate this is a good thing, as those who consume alcohol generally live longer than those who don’t, but from a purely nutritional standpoint, it’s not so hot because you’re getting calories without any upside. Its use should be strategic and regulated for best results.

Now let’s look at the various situations we face daily, at least on most days—hopefully.

Relaxing
This is when we’re sedentary both physically and mentally. In a relaxed state, you burn very few calories because your body is engaged as little as possible, hence the relaxing.

Sedentary work
When we’re at work or school. Our bodies aren’t moving, but our brains are engaged. The brain runs on glycogen, which is blood sugar fueled by carbohydrates.

Low-level exercise
Like mowing the lawn, cleaning the house, or going for a walk. This breaks down body tissue, so you’re burning calories, but it’s not intense work. Therefore, it can be fueled by your stored body fat. Your body tries to fuel its low-level outputs by mobilizing fat stores because this saves its limited glycogen for emergency situations.

High-level exercise
Fueled by glycogen. When you really have to get after it, all sorts of hormones go to work, and your body burns its blood sugar. Body-tissue breakdown is rapid, and your stored blood sugar (glycogen) won’t last much more than an hour.

Sleep
A very active time. Deep sleep is where your body works the hardest to repair itself. You need nutrients to make these repairs, but it’s better if you aren’t mucking up the process with digestion. This is why you hear that you shouldn’t eat too much at night. It’s best to eat early to allow most of the digestion to happen while you’re awake, thus allowing your body to use all its energy for recovery during sleep. It is worth noting here that it’s better to eat before bed if you need the nutrients—don’t skip them. Your body can’t repair itself without nutrients, and recovery from breakdown is why we eat in the first place. Next, let’s take a look at an important word you need to know: insulin.

Insulin
Wikipedia tells us that insulin “is a hormone that has extensive effects on metabolism and other body functions, such as vascular compliance. Insulin causes cells in the liver, muscle, and fat tissue to take up glucose from the blood, storing it as glycogen in the liver and muscle, and stopping use of fat as an energy source.” Okay, that’s a little scientific, but look at all the things we’ve already referenced: hormone, glycogen, metabolism, and fat as an energy source. Even if you don’t fully comprehend “vascular compliance,” you can tell that insulin is something important in today’s discussion.

Sure enough, it’s the only hundred-dollar word we need to know today. Your body’s insulin response is the main reason you want to eat certain foods at certain times, to do certain things.

Putting it all together
Now let’s take what we’ve just learned and put it to use. For most of us, nutrient timing is pretty simple. The next thing to consider is what you’re going to be doing or what you just did. As I said before, what you eat should be based on this. You’ve probably heard about the evils of sugar, or maybe even the glycemic index. Using the science of nutrient timing, you can turn sugar into something healthy because it’s the only thing that transports nutrients into your blood quickly enough to be of service during and after hard exercise.

Essentially, sugar or other easily digested carbs (the less fiber the better) promote an insulin release. This speeds the transformation of carbohydrates into glucose in your blood. As your glycogen stores are depleted during exercise, recharging them with sugar minimizes the damage done by the breakdown of tissue during exercise. Therefore, sugar, the oft-vilified ingredient, is actually your body’s preferred nutrient during times of excessive stress and tissue breakdown.

Pretty cool, huh? The bad news is that this miracle nutrient is not good for you when you’re not doing intense exercise, which for almost all of us is most of the time. In fact, sugar’s very bad for you because the insulin response that was so fabulous for you when you were bonking (glycogen depleted) is not so fabulous for you when you’re sitting in front of the boob tube.

Remember this from the Wikipedia definition of insulin, “stopping use of fat as an energy source”? That’s bad when you’re sitting around. Remember how one of dietary fat’s responsibilities is to fuel you during low-intensity exercise? Well, when sugar causes your insulin to spike, it cuts off that process. Now not only are you not burning body fat for low-level outputs, you’re trying to force your body to use its glycogen. Double bad.

Unless you’re exercising, sugar intake should be minimized. During these times—which is most of the time—your diet should consist of a mixture of proteins, fats, and complex carbohydrates. The latter are natural sources of carbohydrates that generally come with fiber, which regulates the insulin response. Whole fruit, a simple carbohydrate by definition because it contains fructose (a sugar), always contains fiber and, thus, can be treated as a complex carb. Fruit juice, and other such stuff, is processed; it, along with processed complex carbohydrates like white rice, can cause an insulin response, so these types of foods should be used more like sports foods than staples.

It’s also important to note that combining all these different nutrients slows sugar’s ability to incite insulin into action. Therefore, a little sugar like a dessert after a well-rounded meal is buffered by the meal. The calories and lack of decent nutrients (processed sugar is devoid of most nutrients, except for energy) still count toward your overall diet, but at least you don’t have to worry about an insulin spike.

So the main point of this article is very simple. You should eat small, well-rounded meals most of the time. These should include some proteins, some fats, some fiber, and some carbs. During (only if it’s a long workout) and after hard workouts, you should supplement your diet with sugar or simple carbohydrates. After this, you should go back to eating well-rounded meals again.

Sports nutrition has evolved this process even further. In nature, foods are generally slow to digest. Nature’s great sports foods are things such as bananas and figs. These are sugary but still contain fiber and other nutrients. Science has found ways to make foods that are even more efficient during sports. These basically manipulate pH levels and process the sugars to speed them into your system. Outstanding when you need it. Terrible when you don’t.

They’ve even taken this a step further by finding a ratio of other nonsugary nutrients (like protein) that can be transported by the sugar to give you a further benefit. Beachbody’s Results and Recovery Formula uses this science. When you’re bonking during a hard workout, it speeds nutrients that are essential for quick recovery into your system as quickly as possible.

I can’t stress how important it is that sports fuels be used for sports performance only. Gatorade, soda, and all sugar candies (hey, no fat!) all function as the poor man’s sports foods. Unfortunately, those perusing the Quick Stop generally aren’t trying to fuel up after doing Plyo X, and therein may lay our obesity trend.

In case the topic is still a bit fuzzy, let’s use the above logic on the examples in the intro: An Ironman athlete is doing intense exercise for 10 to 12 hours or more. During this time, that athlete is mainly burning glycogen, which is gone after an hour or so. The athlete burns stored fat, too, but this is limited in its effectiveness. To race, the athlete must replenish with sports foods because they contain the only nutrients that the athlete will digest fast enough to help. To complete an Ironman, especially at your physical limit, it may take 5,000 calories coming mainly from sugar.

This is a sports-specific diet only. Someone trying to eat that way during a viewing of the Lord of the Rings trilogy would be lucky to stay out of the emergency room. Conversely, if you tried to maintain a 25-mph speed for 8 hours on your bike while munching on raw spinach and lean steak, you’d bonk so hard you’d be praying to get yanked from the race at the first checkpoint. That should cover your 911 on nutrient timing. Next time, we’ll move on to the topic of supplements. Are they magic pills, overhyped placebos, or something in between?

7 Foods with Healing Powers

Healing Foods
Spending time on my grandparents’ farm taught me the connection between fresh food and good health at an early age. In addition, my grandmother’s pantry was our pharmacy and, over the years, many of the things I was taught by Grandma have been backed by “science.” Here are seven fresh and natural foods with the potential power to heal you physically and mentally.

The Magnificent 7
1. Blueberries
These nutrient-packed berries can help bruises disappear. They are a rich source of flavonoids and a good source of vitamin C, which together improve blood circulation (thus reducing swelling) and help form collagen, the tissue that holds skin together.

2. Lemons
Squeeze two whole lemons into your tea, seltzer, and other beverages or on salads and other food to get your daily requirement of vitamin C. This major antioxidant not only fights heart disease and boosts immunity but it also helps form the collagen we need to heal tendons, ligaments, bones, and blood vessels.

3. Garlic
Two garlic cloves a day may keep what Grandpa called “hardening of the arteries” away. We now call it arteriosclerosis, but the garlic works just the same. In a German study recently presented at an American Heart Association conference in Washington, D.C., it was stated that taking two cloves of garlic a day reduces the formation of arterial plaque by up to 40 percent. And 42 other clinical trials have shown that garlic can improve cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure.

4. Lettuce
If getting to sleep is a problem, a sedative you may not have known about is lettuce, which contains a sleep-inducing substance called lectucarium. Its effects have been compared to the sedative effects of opium, but without the accompanying excitement.

5. Chocolate
Dark chocolate is packed with healthy nutrients, including flavonoids, that are part of a group of antioxidants known as polyphenols that decreases LDL (bad) cholesterol oxidation, reduces the risk of blood clots, increases blood flow in arteries, and may lower high blood pressure. In addition, most of us can agree that chocolate improves mood and pleasure. It does that by boosting serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain. Plus, chocolate contains a number of minerals, including calcium, magnesium, and potassium.

6. Apples
Give in to temptation when it comes to one of the earth’s healthiest foods. They are a great source of fiber. They’re also a source of the phytochemical quercetin—a compound widely recognized for its ability to fight heart disease and cancer. “Apples are one of the best sources of flavonoids—as long as you leave on the peel,” Kristine Napier, RD, writes in Eat to Heal. “Their complement of phytochemicals helps them fight heart disease, stroke, cancer, infections, inflammation and colitis.” Because of the combination of fiber and fructose, apples help maintain blood sugar levels, which is key in fighting that afternoon blood sugar low. In fact, a successful dieting tip is to crunch into an apple for your afternoon snack—you’ll end up eating a lot less during dinner.

7. Avocados
This tropical fruit wasn’t grown in the United States until the 1830s. It is rich in potassium, beta-carotene, and “good” fat—the same monounsaturated fat that’s found in olive oil and has been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels. Avocados are also a rich source of the essential fatty acid (EFA) omega-9 that helps promote hormone regulation, the transportation of fat through the body, and the breakup of cholesterol. Because avocados are higher in calories than other fruits—two-thirds of an avocado has about 150 calories—you might not want to eat the “alligator pear” at every meal, but you can increase the delicious quotient of your favorite sandwich by adding some slices or making it a fiesta by digging into some guacamole.