Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sugar and Your Health

A must watch!


I am regularly perplexed by the casualness with which people consume sugar. We give it to our children at extremely young ages and from there on it becomes part of our daily lives and we can never seem to kick the sugar cravings.

I remember as a kid, sugary foods were for one-off, special occasions only, to be enjoyed in that instance in moderation. Whether because of my parents' insistence or their own lifestyle choices, I never grew a fondness for sugary foods. Even now as an adult, I rarely eat processed sugar and I consciously look at labels on food to ensure I am buying the item with the least amount of sugar or ideally none at all.

It really is a conscious choice to not make sugar part of your everyday life. Watching this video reminds us that sugar is in practically everything, in foods you would least expect.

Toxic Sugar, reminds me of a segment of a feature documentary I watched last year, I believe it was Hungry for Change, but I cannot find the exact excerpt I am referring to. The documentary had a chart of addictive compounds, drugs, alcohol, sugars, fats, salt, tobacco, etc. and bar none sugar had the highest addictive properties and the most degenerative effect long term on all parts of the body and is also the most highly consumed compound on the chart. The chart and video segment were eye opening for me in that it took my already conscious approach to being hyperconscious of my sugar consumption.

Toxic Sugar is equally as memorable and well worth the watch. Dr. Robert Lustig really probes at the misconception that obesity is not habit or biochemistry, but is in fact, the fault of the food industry. The amount of sugar in everything we consume, even when we think it is "healthy" is actually killing us.

The suggestion Dr. Lustig proposes that sugar should be regulated like other addictive things such as drugs, tobacco and alcohol, I feel is not far fetched, because clearly the food industry is feeding us a substance that is knowingly addictive, that's why they use it; it sells food. But sugar consumption is having catastrophic results on our health, our organs, our weight management, our health care system, our brain function, the list goes on and on, watch the 18 minute video and Google more about sugar to learn more.

So the take away for me, for you, for all of us attempting to be aware, and be conscious of what we put in our bodies and how we treat our bodies - eat real, whole foods that you handle, prepare and cook yourself. And if you do buy something in a package, be very, very aware and read the label. Sugar can be hidden under a number of names: 

Sucrose, Maltose, Dextrose, Fructose, Glucose, Galactose, Lactose, High fructose corn syrup, Glucose solids, Cane juice, Dehydrated cane juice, Cane juice solids, Cane juice crystals, Dextrin, Maltodextrin, Dextran, Barley malt, Beet sugar, Corn syrup, Corn syrup solids, Caramel, Buttered syrup, Carob syrup, Brown sugar, Date sugar, Malt syrup, Diatase, Diatastic malt, Fruit juice, Fruit juice concentrate, Dehydrated fruit juice, Fruit juice crystals, Golden syrup, Turbinado,  Sorghum syrup, Refiner's syrup, Ethyl maltol, Maple syrup, Yellow sugar, Aspartame, which is now being called AminoSweet -Hungry for Change

Take on the responsibility to live your best life and be extremely aware of what you chose to eat because the food industry certainly is not trying to make it any easier for you and the choices you make. Learn more, become educated about good foods and take a stand to ensure you know what you are feeding yourself and your well-being.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Yoga, Wine or Sweat?

Stress management is a life challenge. Everyone is different and everyone handles stress in their own way, but management is a critical part to making it through the many stresses of life. 

Lately my day job seems to effect every part of my life. I head to work each morning, waning optimism of a new day that fades entirely by dinner time, only to wake and do it all over again the next day. With all the huge changes, personnel issues, management issues, new software installations, new programs and the generational divide between the old staff and the new, and old and new systems, I leave with my head throbbing, shoulders sore, and deep breathing attempts manifesting to a guttural moan that only perpetuates into getting worked up again, when kindly asked as I walk in the door 2 hours later than I would normally get off work, "Hey Babe, how was your day?" Unfortunately my job, at this point in time, is all consuming.

We all know we need to manage our stress. Stress kills. Cortisol and adrenaline are the body's hormonal defense mechanisms in times of stress, be it temporary or long term. They are produced as part of the body's fight-or-flight reaction to stressful situations. The problem with prolonged stress, your cortisol levels don't drop. Cortisol curbs functions that would be nonessential in a fight-or-flight situation such as immune system responses, suppressing the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with regions of your brain that control mood, motivation and fear. In a prolonged state, cortisol causes weight gain in the abdominal area, which left ignored can cause a multitude of health problems, such as stress on internal organs by the increased abdominal fat, trouble sleeping, heart problems, digestive issues, anxiety and depression, to name a few. We have a natural alarm system that is great for one-off intense instances, but the majority of us live in a more semi-regular fluctuation of stress, often triggering our fight-or-flight system more than it was ever intended to be needed.

So it is clear that temporary stress management is important to alleviate the long term ramifications of stress because there are some major health concerns that come by ignoring stress symptoms in the short term. There are clearly more healthy ways than others to help one manage stress and we all have our preferences depending on the type of shit dealt that day. Recommendations range from stress reduction (but who really has much control over that, especially when dealing with the overhaul of a company), exercise (makes sense), eating well (I don't know about you, but when I am stressed I want to eat all my food vices at once), thinking positively (ya OK!?) and being social (this too makes sense). For my daily stress management it comes down to 3 choices; two are on the "recommended list" (yay, me), the other, not so much.

Lately, my question to myself on my drive home from work is, 'yoga, wine or sweat?'

While the default for many is often booze, it is probably the worst choice for stress management, but we all turn to it. The running joke around the office right now is, "Is it whiskey time?," which basically is any time, minus some stupid no alcohol policy while on the clock, grumble, grumble. What happened to the good-ole-days of the Mad Men era when booze was permitted and encouraged for the daily workings of an office? So, we often blow off steam after work, saddling up to the local bar, bitching about the inner-workings, or current lack thereof, in the office. It momentarily helps. And trust me, there are days, and as any office-based TV show will reiterate; a favorite line in particular - Marty Kaan from House of Lies, "I need to drunk." And some days that is just the case, drunkenness helps alleviate the stress for the evening, or at least makes the bitching more tolerable for those around you. Bitching is always more amusing and bonding when encouraged by some alcohol, you come together over a buzz, a common enemy and the camaraderie of "us against them."

But then there is the good side that kicks in, the better conscious side, on my other shoulder saying, "Well now, I know that wine sounds good, but yoga is better for you. It will calm your mind and release the tension of the day." As I say to myself, "I know, I know, I know," and suit up in my yoga gear. Yoga has amazing powers to calm my mind. The stress relief and inversions, deep breathing, all really works wonders. The clarity of mind is more than any number of glasses of wine can create, well then again, wine does the exact opposite, fuzzing the clarity of mind (but that's the purpose, right?). Sometimes I will resist the know-better of yoga practice after a long, stressful day, but every single time my better conscious wins, I am happier, calmer, relieved, less tense throughout my entire body, more than any amount of bitching or wine drinking could ever fix. So while I resist the initial "zen-Buddha," of which some days I want to say fuck zen-Buddha, the difference for me is untouchable. More often than not, my reluctance gives way to the best form of stress management I have ever known.

Sweat. Sweat for me has been a stress management tool I have relied on my whole life. When I was a frustrated teenager, I would put on my running shoes and head out the front door to run along the beach for as long as my legs would carry me. I turned to sports to alleviate some of the stresses in school, and in college my gym routine was just a valuable as my study routine. Sweating to me always meant a hardcore workout that teetered on the side of slightly masochistic. I love the labored breathing, the slow but gradual burn of working muscles, the beats blasting in my ears, the itchy trickle of sweat running down my face and back, and the residual post-workout ache the next day. Working out is one of the few times in my life that my brain completely turns off. Somehow the accomplishment of kicking my own ass to a point of exhaustion where I can't think of anything else, other than how badass I feel, makes the shitty, frustrating, pain-in-the-ass day melt away. There are just some days that no form of yoga nor massive glass of wine will do what the endorphin rush of a hardcore workout will produce, (well that and maybe getting laid, but I am not sure that sex is on the "professionally recommended stress-reducing list," but it should be!).

So drink, mediate, breathe, sweat, be positive, get laid, be zen-Buddha, eat junk, get drunk, whatever it may be, because we all have shitty days and stressful weeks, and one way or another we have to get through (just maybe have most of your stress management tools be good for you than bad, but we all have to have a few bad).

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Juice Cleanses

Juice cleanses are all the craze right now in the fad diet world. I can't tell you how many women's magazines I have picked up in the last few months that all have an article about the juicing craze and juice cleanses. Heck there is even an acronym now F.O.I.J. translates to fuck off I'm juicing for those of us offered solid food while doing a cleanse.

So here is my two cents on juicing and cleanses.

I bought a juicer a little over a year ago (see I Heart My Juicer for more on that) and I love it. I use it a minimum of 3-4 times a week as part of my regular diet. Something in my body balances right when I start my day with either a big green fresh-pressed juice or a loaded fruit smoothie. Ideally this is after a morning yoga session, but sometimes there are mornings I just want to stay in bed for that extra hour. One day it'll be second nature, but for now, I have my days where I fight having to get up the hour earlier. Regardless of the yoga, I always juice or make a smoothie.

Since juicing has become a normal part of my everyday life there are noticeable changes. I feel better, my skin is clearer, that internal luminescence they say comes with juicing (apparently I have it, or so I have been told), my bowels are more regular and just the sheer amount of veggies I am consuming, by volume alone, has to be good. It is known that even vegetarians can't get the recommended daily intake of veggies by eating them alone, so why not drink them?!

As for cleanses, I do them often. I use a cleanse as reset in a sort of ways. When I have been off or not eating as healthfully as I would like or if my bowels just seem agitated continuously, I will do a cleanse to calm everything down, give my digestive tract a break and come back to center. Many cultures actually rely on fasting as a reset in a way, some are religious practices, but for others fasting/cleansing is very common way to stay in tune with your body. And I use a cleanse for that exact reason, being more in tune with what my body needs.

Juice cleanses do wonders for me. And yes there is a right way and a wrong way to do a juice cleanse. Like I said I have juice in my daily life and I think everyone should, you really don't what your missing until you do, but a cleanse ups the ante. The common time frames are a 3-5 day cleanse, 1 week (~7-10 days) cleanse or a 21-day cleanse. Each one has completely different approaches.

A 3-5 day cleanse is the easiest and just a quick booster. I will often do a cleanse over a weekend, where I actively chose to be reflective, focus on me, my physical, mental and personal health, by doing lots of yoga and writing, as to not ask too much of my body. Yes there is some mild headache and weakness, but both you can work through if you plan accordingly. I find it much harder to juice during the work week. I would highly recommend not doing your first juice cleanse during work.

On a 3-day cleanse you'll want to juice up to 5 times per day. There are tons and tons of juice recipes online, but the goal is get as much variety in your veggies as possible to get the most amount of nutrients. Dr. Oz featured a juice cleanse plan adapted from Joe Cross, who is the focal point in the book and documentary, Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. I have tried his plan and it nice, especially because of all the variety, so you don't get bored, and you are surprisingly full on this plan. This plan is a great starting place for some one's first cleanse. However, I base my cleanses on what is fresh, organic and in season, I also prefer not to add fruit to my juices, I know it makes them more palatable, but I prefer to leave fruit out. During a cleanse you will want to consume mostly vegetable based juices, you can drink fruit juices, but avoid them in large amounts as much a possible, the goal is to strip the body of toxins, like sugars, and too much fruit juice during a juice cleanse can give you a sugar rush and make you jittery, not fun.

On a 3-day cleanse you don’t eat solid foods, don’t drink caffeinated beverages and no alcohol, but drink lots of water and sip your juices throughout the day, consuming them roughly in 4 hour increments. To me a 3-day cleanse is a breeze, but I do them often. So for those that are new to the cleanse concept, a few heads-up: The first day you might have some stomach growling (drink your juices throughout the day slowly to minimize this and maximize nutrient absorption along with lots of water), you might have a slight headache and some lightheadness, but nothing too bad and you will pee a lot! But that is a good thing, your body is flushing toxins, so pee away. Day 2 you will wake up feeling lighter and energized in a way. Keep it up, 5 different juices throughout the day, intermixed with lots of water and herbal teas. Some people like coconut water, but I find it too sweet and jolting to the system. Your lightheadness should be much less annoying today, no headache, your grumbly tummy barely noticeable, you will still pee a lot, and you might not poop, but this nothing to be alarmed about. Day 3 you will feel great. You should be like this is a cinch, I am holding strong, but midday you are going to be like uhh, more juice, I am sick of juice! At this point I tune into my body and see if the cravings for food are real or something I need to work past. So after day 3 I decide to go 1 or 2 more days or to stop.

If you chose to extend to 5 days you will want to introduce more foods, such as yogurt, vegetable broth, kefir, etc. for a bit more substance. Depending on your time frame, 3 up to 5 days, you will want to listen to your body, it will tell you what is right for you. You can always build up to more days next time. Don't push yourself too far. And just so you know each cleanse is better than the last, they only get easier and you learn to love the feeling of being hungry and being OK with that, but also knowing your system is purging. That hungry mechanism is so easily overridden in our day to day by eating on the run, or eating too much because it tastes good, or you are indulging after a long week; having a reset to remind you that hungry is not a bad feeling, but is a way for you to know when it is real, and not you are just thirsty, or bored, or stressed.

After any cleanse you can’t just jump back to eating everything and anything. You will want to ease back into solid food. Eat mostly vegetables again but now in solid form. Not a whole lot of snazzy cooking methods either, but lots of greens and slightly sauteed veggies in EVOO, otherwise don't go crazy with the herbs, spices and added fats. You might also want to add some brown rice for fiber and protein. You’ll want to do this diet out of the cleanse for a day or 2, slowly introducing your regular eating habits in about a week’s time. Though remember cleanses are about resetting. So I often feel the need to be extra nice to my body and help it as much as possible; for me that means no alcohol, caffeine, dairy, meats for as long as it feels good. You will notice you get fuller faster. You aren’t as hungry all the time, which helps me tune into the consciousness of am I really hungry?

If you want to go for a week-long (7-10 day) cleanse you will want to juice again, up to 5 times a day, but eat 1 meal a day. That meal should be very easy to digest, relatively simple in preparation and contain mostly veggies. For however long you are on the cleanse, I recommend eating a very limited diet for up to 1 week after.

Lastly, there is the 21-day cleanse and longer. This is more of a celebrity, I need to lose weight type-concept. A 21-day cleanse is not for the faint of heart and definitely not for first time juice cleansers. I’ve never done a 21 day cleanse, as 3-5 days or even 7 days is more than sufficient for me to reset, but then again I never go too far off my daily balance to justify 21 days and I am not trying to lose weight. 21-day cleanses are often pitched as necessary to use a professional juicing company to maximize ample nutrients, however that is expensive and it seems counterproductive somehow, to me; in the re-balancing of self and being reflective, by willingly spending an exorbitant amount of money to purchase a fad juice cleanse package. Juice at home it is SO much more green and you know what is going into your juice, you made it! With that being said, I am sure there are plenty of resources available online to properly do a 21-day cleanse at home, but I have yet to see the value in doing one.

With the exclusion of the 21-day cleanse, if you consume 5 different, varied juices a day, you will never pass out as some people fear, at most you will be lightheaded and little sluggish, but otherwise it really is not that bad. And for me the benefits on the other side, make it so worth it. 

My default juice and smoothie recipes:

3 carrots
1 bunch parsley
2 stalks celery
kale (how much is hard to measure, but it is a lot) or spinach, or both
1 beet
a section of cucumber
fresh trimmed wheatgrass (again hard to measure, but a few bunches snipped)

sometimes I will add an 1" of fresh ginger depending on my mood

If you need to you can add an apple, a piece of pineapple, or some ice and a squeeze of lemon at the end if you need to make it less "green" tasting.

1 banana
organic mixed berries (enough to cover the banana in the blender)
2 large spoonfuls of yogurt
1 tsp chia seeds
1 T. flax seeds
1 generous squirt of liquid trace minerals
a hardy shake of the bottle of bee pollen
2 tsp. spirulina
fresh trimmed wheatgrass or a handful of spinach
enough oj or local apple cider (when in season) to get everything blended together

Blend until smooth