Thursday, June 28, 2007


WebMD reports: [edited]

Want a drug that could lower your risk of diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and colon cancer? That could lift your mood and treat headaches? That could lower your risk of cavities?

Coffee, the much maligned but undoubtedly beloved beverage, just made headlines for possibly cutting the risk of the latest disease epidemic, type 2 diabetes. And the real news seems to be that the more you drink, the better.

After analyzing data on 126,000 people for as long as 18 years, Harvard researchers calculate that compared with not partaking in America's favorite morning drink, downing one to three cups of caffeinated coffee daily can reduce diabetes risk by single digits. But having six cups or more each day slashed men's risk by 54% and women's by 30% over java avoiders.

Though the scientists give the customary "more research is needed" before they recommend you do overtime at Starbuck's to specifically prevent diabetes, their findings are very similar to those in a less-publicized Dutch study. And perhaps more importantly, it's the latest of hundreds of studies suggesting that coffee may be something of a health food - especially in higher amounts.

At least six studies indicate that people who drink coffee on a regular basis are up to 80% less likely to develop Parkinson's, with three showing the more they drink, the lower the risk. Other research shows that compared to not drinking coffee, at least two cups daily can translate to a 25% reduced risk of colon cancer, an 80% drop in liver cirrhosis risk, and nearly halve the risk of gallstones.

On the flip side, it's clear that coffee isn't for everyone. Its legendary jolt in excess doses - that is, more than whatever your individual body can tolerate - can increase nervousness, hand trembling, and cause rapid heartbeat. Coffee may also raise cholesterol levels in some people and may contribute to artery clogging. But most recent large studies show no significant adverse effects on most healthy people, although pregnant women, heart patients, and those at risk for osteoporosis may still be advised to limit or avoid coffee.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Sirloin steak

Red meats differ massively in their fat content depending on the animal, and the parts of the animal, they are derived from. Popular wisdom tells us that white meat has less fat than red meat, however there are some cuts of red meat that are extremely low in fat, of which sirloin steak wins the prize.

Provided you trim all the fat from it, 100 grammes of grilled sirloin steak contains 135 calories, 23.5g protein and 4.5g fat. The same weight of chicken breast fillet yields 126 calories, 25.1g protein, 1.2g carbohydrates and 2.3g fat.

And lean red meat has other benefits as well, it a rich source of iron, vitamin B12 and zinc. It's also low in sodium and cholesterol.

Oh, and it tastes fantastic!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

200 calories-worth of food

Pay a visit to WiseGeek.

Once you've got over the shock of the scary lady, and the horrible page layout, you will find a series of images and captions that give you an idea of the calorie content of the stuff we shove in our mouths.

(thanks to Sora Neko for the link)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Omega-3 & Omega-6

You probably don't need telling that the human body is very efficient at making and storing fat. However, there two types of fat that it cannot produce naturally, and which it needs to function efficiently. They are Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) called Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.

Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated fats that have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. Excessive inflammation is associated with many chronic degenerative conditions including cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, arthritis and dementia.

Tests have indicated that Omega-3 fatty acids offer protection against depression, bipolar disorder and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids have also been associated with lower cancer risk in population studies.

Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in plant and animal products. The highest levels are found in flaxseed oil and cold water fish such as salmon, herring, sardines and trout. However, flaxseed oil's Omega-3 content is less easily accessible to the body than fish oil (if you want to know more, type 'flaxseed oil vs fish oil' into Google).

Sources of omega-3 fatty acids at lower levels include walnuts, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, soybeans and blackcurrant seeds.

The three most important omega-3 fatty acids are Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA), Eicosa Pentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosa Hexaenoisc Acid (DHA). ALA is an essential fatty acid that must be consumed in the diet, it is converted in the body to EPA and DHA (which turn into series 3 prostaglandins). The prostaglandins then direct signals to dilate blood vessels, reduce inflammation, and prevent platelets from crowding together.

By contrast, Omega-6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory. Inflammation helps the body repair itself (such as in the case of a muscle sprain). Omega-6 fatty acids are incorporated into the cell membrane, and when the cell is under stress, it places prostaglandins around it signaling to the body the need for repair.

Omega-6 fatty acids are found in red meat, dairy products and Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs) such as soybean and corn oil.

The most important omega-6 fatty acid is Arachidonic Acid (AA), which can be found in egg yolks, meats (organs in particular), and other animal-based food items. Linoleic Acid (LA) is converted to Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA) in the body and then further broken down into AA.

Most westerners consume a surplus of Omega-6, and a deficit of Omega-3. If, like me, you don't like fish much, 1,000 milligrams of a good quality fish oil supplement a day should counteract the deficiency.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Potatoes - they're not bad, just misunderstood

Potatoes are low in fat, high in vitamins and minerals, virtually fat-free, contain almost no cholesterol and when served with their skins are a great source of fibre. And compared to most vegetables, they're even quite high in protein.

150g of potatoes provide you with a quarter of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of Vitamin C and Vitamin B6. And only 100 calories.

A baked potato in its skin contains more fibre than two slices of wholemeal bread.

However (especially when peeled) they are a high-glycemic-index food, raising bad triglycerides and depress good-type HDL cholesterol, boosting the risk of heart attack, especially in people with insulin resistance.

So, stick to small portions (say, 150g), hold the salt, butter and mayonnaise, and eat with low-glycemic index foods to buffer the 'sugar spike'.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Never too old to pump iron

Keiser Training reports: [edited]

Over the past 10 years we have pioneered the use of high intensity progressive resistance training in frail elders between 80 and 105 years of age. The concept of using this mode of exercise in such an aged population was generated by the realization that sarcopenia [degenerative loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength] and its associated muscle dysfunction and metabolic consequences is a major impediment to attainment of the fullest possible quality of life in this cohort.

We have seen that high intensity progressive resistance training is feasible, safe, and effective in nonagenarians in a variety of settings: nursing home, chronic hospital, outpatient clinics, continuing care communities, and individual homes. The injury rate is extremely low, and very few medical conditions are incompatible with its usage.

It can be administered by individuals themselves, family, caregivers, students and volunteers after simple training courses. The benefits we have seen to date include improvements in muslcle strength, muscle mass, gait speed, balance, stairclimbing ability, overall physical activity levels, functional status, morale, depression, sleep, and nutritional intake.

Muscle biopsy samples indicate activation of satellite cells and myogenic precursor appearance, as well as expression of developmental myosin and IGF-1, all indicative of the plasticity and remodeling of the skeletal muscle at this very advanced age.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Exercising after meals can aid weight loss

BBC reports: [edited]

Exercising after meals can help promote weight loss by boosting hormones that suppress appetite, say UK scientists. Thanks to these hormones, active people feel less hungry immediately after exercise, and this carries through to their next meal, experiments suggest.

Even when their meals were bigger, sporty people gained fewer calories overall because they burned off more.

Twelve volunteers were fed the same breakfast. An hour later, half of them worked out for an hour on an exercise bike while the other half sat quietly. Both groups were left for another hour and then allowed to eat as much as they liked.

Unsurprisingly, people who exercised burned more calories than those who sat quietly, 492 kcal compared to 197 kcal. And when given the chance to eat afterwards, people who had exercised tended to eat more, 913 kcal versus to 762 kcal.

However, when the amount of energy burned during exercise was taken into account, the sporty people took in fewer calories overall - 421 kcal compared to 565 kcal for the inactive group.

And levels of hormones called PYY, GLP-1 and PP, which tell the brain when the stomach is full, increased during and immediately after exercise. Volunteers also said they felt less hungry during this time.

Researcher Dr Denise Robertson said: "In the past we have been concerned that, although exercise burns energy, people subsequently ate more after working out. This would cancel out any possible weight reduction effects of exercise.

"But our research shows that exercise may alter people's appetite to help them lose weight and prevent further weight gain as part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle."

(Thanks to Chantal for the link)

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Calculating your heart rate 'zones'

In my first post on monitoring your heart rate, I explained why I'm convinced that a heart rate monitor is essential to maximise the efficiency of any cardio-vascular exercise programme.

If you do purchase one, the first thing you need to do is calculate your minimum and maximum heart rates.

Minimum heart rate
Wear your heart rate monitor to bed over a period of three days (Note: when you're exercising, a good smear of spit is enough to act as a start up conductor between your chest strap and your skin, with sweat soon replacing it. However, for this test you may need to use electrode gel to make sure the chest strap picks up your heart's electrical pulses, although any water-based lubrication gel should do).

Check your heart rate on first waking up each morning, and calculate the average of the three readings. This is your 'resting' heart rate. (Warning: if you wake up busting for the toilet, this will significantly raise your heart rate).

Maximum heart rate
Perform some kind of cardio-vascular exercise for fifteen minutes or so at a moderate pace (if you can't do this, then you're not ready for this test). Then gradually up the pace until you are working flat out - and I mean FLAT OUT. The best way I've found of doing this is with someone else, either cycling up a hill, or on a decent stationary rowing machine. Then keep going until your pulse rate isn't increasing... this usually occurs just before you fall over in a groaning sweaty heap.

Now you've got your minimum and maximum heart rates, visit Sark Products.

Feed in your data, and you will get the 'zones' for various levels of activity. The 'age/swimming/male/female' buttons don't apply because you're providing the resting and maximum heart rate. However, your maximum heart rate will be less if you are swimming, so if this is part of your exercise, you should do a 'maximum' test for this as well.

In a future blog I'll take a look at how to use this information to make the most of your cardio-vascular exercise sessions.