Friday, November 29, 2013

Help Fighting Sugar Cravings

Why do we crave sugar? It can be addictive - eating sugar causes dopamine release in the part of the brain associated with reward and motivation. "Ah, ha!", you say. That explains why you can be found rummaging through drawers and cupboards like a frantic robber in search of something sweet.

Some Science on Sugar
According to studies, sugar does actually affect the brain. Researchers at the University of California trained rats to successfully navigate a maze, then replaced their water with 15 percent fructose syrup (soda is typically 12 percent). After six weeks of the fructose syrup, the rats were slower to complete the maze. When the rat’s brains were dissected the researchers discovered the sugar disrupted relay chemical messages, and thus effected the ability of the brain to form memories. 
(A Neat Fact: This study also experimented with omega-3 fatty acid intake and found when the rats’ diet were supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids they could complete the maze faster.)

Science isn't sure yet how directly sugar is linked to chronic disease. However, science does know that sugar does have a high glycemic index, and diets with a high glycemic index can lead to disease: The Nurses Study followed over 75,000 women for a decade and illustrated that a high glycemic load is linked with a high risk of coronary heart disease. 

"Big Sugar" - Estimated at $77.5 billion last year, the global sugar industry (nicknamed ‘Big Sugar’) is overseen by the Sugar Association. It has used millions of dollars to influence research, dietary guidelines and media to keep the bitter reality about sugar hidden. Check out documentaries online about Big Sugar - it's a really fascinating story.

My Confession: I totally love sugar! It's like my body has been invaded by a Sugar Monster that likes to randomly roar and stomp until its fed. So, I have a few bars of organic, free-trade dark chocolate hiding in the panty (shhh, don't tell the kids), and I take a few chunks to the couch as my post-kids-to-bed treat at night. It's nice - a little something sweet that doesn't contain too many calories...and, it's great at getting that pesky Sugar Monster to shut-up.

Monday, November 18, 2013

How to Avoid Bloating and Other Holiday Eating Gut Dilemmas

Santa’s belly may be round because he’s bloated. It’s just a hypothesis but after I read this new study on probiotics and the affects a simple diet (one with lots of sugar), I started to wonder.

FACT: Positively influencing the microflora in our gut (doing things so we have more good probiotics and less bad microbes such as salmonella and E. coli) makes us healthier.

New research published last week in Applied and Environmental Microbiology* reported how the microflora in the gut is affected by both diet and the status of our hormone receptor sites.

DIET: In the study, mice were given a diet with phytoestrogens or without. A phytoestrogen is a plant compound that acts like estrogen in the gut, offering positive benefits to the body. When phytoestrogens were present, the mice had a healthier microflora. When the mice ate a diet of mostly simple sugar (similar to the shortbread and hot chocolate diet we all consume over the holidays) they had more proteobiotics (bad microbes).

HORMONES: The study compared normal mice to a group bred to not have receptor sites for a specific hormone in the gut.  As we age, the number (status) of receptors in our gut changes - thus, we have different microflora with age and we should take this into account when we consider probiotic supplements and which foods we eat. In other words, we could enjoy better gut health if we eat more healthy foods such as those that contain phytoestrogens. Also, this opens the door for manufacturers of probiotics to do a better job of creating age-specific probiotic supplements that could take this hormone-receptor status into account. But, hold your horses, folks! Give them a few years yet as this is pretty new research.

My Confession: I love shortbread. Mmm! And, I have been known to say, “Why not eat some junk – you’re on vacation/holidays.” But, in the study they found negative changes in the mice’s gut flora with just 2 weeks on a simple diet. Yicks! No wonder a weekend of holiday parties can make me feel so bloated. Maybe I need to keep my holiday bad-diet to shorter stints of time, and counteract with more probiotics and foods with fibre and phytoestrogens in them. And, phew - just imagine what Santa feels like after his 6 weeks of pre-Christmas holiday engagements where he’s expected to eat cookies – no wonder he’s got such a big belly. Someone get the man some probiotics!

*Link to the study - 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Omega-3 fatty acids: Good or Bad

Can omega-3s harm you?
It's time to delve into another media frenzy that has taken a perfectly good clinical study and caused utter confusion amongst society. So, here's what you love me for. Keep reading for the 'real deal', the 'inside scoop', the 'truth uncovered'...

Late last month, a study was published that investigated whether there was potential risk to taking high dosages of fish oil - dosages far greater than what one would consume eating the American Heart Association's recommended 2 servings of fatty fish a week, or a daily fish oil supplement. In fact, the researchers even point that they still recommend people continue to consumer fatty fish regularly and take supplements.

Why do this study?
These studies are important - once researchers discover a nutrient can offer the body healthy benefits (such as fish oil's proven ability to help boost cardiovascular, immune, mental, joint and digestive health), it's scientifically responsible to investigate if an upper limit exists. And, the study found that there may be a point where too much fish oil may have negative effects on the immune and cardiovascular system. But, its important to put these findings in perspective - this research is not about whether fish oil is dangerous, it helps scientists better determine how much fish oil is most beneficial to our health.

What's a Safe Dosage?
To date, research studies have used anywhere between 500mg and 9g of omega-3 fatty acids*. But, what is the "best" dosage for you? Well, that depends on your health condition, diet, age and weight. Health Canada says a safe dosage for adults is 100-5000mg of EPA + DHA (those are two types of omega-3 fatty acids) daily. Curious about your kids? Health Canada suggests kids under 8 years of age get 50-1500mg of EPA+DHA daily. Read more on Health Canada's Monograph for fish oil here -

*Note: The amount of omega-3 fatty acids is not the same as the amount of fish oil. Fish oil contains some omega-3 fatty acids - read your supplement label carefully.

Interested in reading what the media has to say? Here is a bit more of a well rounded story on this latest study:

My Confession? Our family not only takes a fish oil supplement each morning in our shake, we seek out environmentally conscious fatty fish choices in our diets to support the little kids' brain development, and the aging joint of us big kids'.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Dark Winter Days: How to beat SAD and other darkness-linked health issues

It's dark going to work, and dark when you come home. In the fall and winter, we experience fewer hours of daylight. This darkness has amazing effects on living things around us - just look at the yellow, orange and red leaves (or in your neck of the woods they may already be brown and on the ground). The dark days of winter have just as profound effects on our bodies as the leaves - such as changes to mood and sleep-wake cycles as well as cessation of vitamin D production.

Do You Feel Like Hibernating?
Mr. Sun helps to tell our body when it is time to be awake and active. When exposed to sunlight, sensors in our eyes send messages along a nerve pathway to the hypothalamus in the brain. From there, factors involved in determining if we feel awake or sleepy are controlled, as well as the body’s temperature and hormones. One of the major hormones that regulate our sleep-awake cycle is melatonin, produced by the pineal gland.  Melatonin is only produced during dark hours giving you a sleepy sensation, thus with fewer sunlight hours, and an increased use of artificial lighting during the fall our body can lose the natural day-night rhythm causing people to have trouble sleeping, or experience daytime drowsiness. 

Skip the Sunscreen 
At latitudes above 35°, there is minimal, if any, pre-vitamin D3 production in the skin as it doesn't experience much sunlight. Vitamin D is an important fat-soluble vitamin in the human body involved in bone health including calcium absorption in the gut, maintenance of blood phosphate levels, bone growth and remodeling by osteoblasts and osteoclasts. Researchers are also discovering links with vitamin D deficiency and diseases including some forms of cancer, autoimmune diseases, heart disease, rickets and osteoporosis. Get your D in! Vitamin D supplements are a great idea. Food wise - fortified milk and salmon are the best sources (of note, studies have found that wild salmon has 75-90% more vitamin D than farmed salmon.) 

It's a SAD Time of Year
Are you experiencing fatigue, oversleeping, overeating, weight gain, cravings, moodiness or depression? SAD is a type of depression that has a seasonal cycle, provoked by the decreased number of sunlight hours in a day. According to the Mood Disorder Society of Canada, 2-4% of Canadians suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).  How does this all work? Well, serotonin is converted into melatonin in the body – serotonin and melatonin are chemicals in your body that cause happiness and sleep. Research shows promising results for the use of light therapy, melatonin, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. Other SAD coping strategies include meditation and a healthy diet focusing on nutrient-rich foods such as green vegetables, cherries, mushrooms, nuts and seeds.