Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Myriads of Pyramids

When I was a kid, learning about food groups was kind of like learning your ABCs and everyone accepted it as fact. It was very simple then. There were only 4 food groups.

In the early 90's, the FDA came out with the food pyramid. I thought it was a good concept and was surprised the first time I heard people criticize the food pyramid. Many of the critics claimed that meat producers or other powerful food lobbies were influencing the government recommendations.

Before we tear the food pyramid apart, I think the concept of identifying different food groups and recommending optimal portions of those foods can be beneficial to the masses. Our bodies require some foods in greater abundance than others while some should only be used in moderation.

There have been several modifications to the FDA food pyramid as it has evolved over the years. The most recent version can be found at mypyramid.gov. This updated food pyramid version is not as easy to discern at first glance as prior ones have been. It also includes steps to remind people about the importance of exercise and physical activity in addition to their diet.

There are many different customized versions and knock offs of the food pyramid. Some of these include versions for bodybuilders, vegetarians, paleo, Mediterranean, etc. There are even joke pyramids which include the starving college student pyramid,  junk food pyramids, and a food pyramid for trapped Chilean miners which consists of tuna, milk, and crackers.

Regardless of what sort or pyramid you favor or what type of diet you prefer, it is important to remember the principles of balance, variety, and moderation when you eat. Customization is also an important concept since many people have different nutritional needs. Remembering these concepts can keep you from going to extremes and getting out of balance when it comes to your nutrition.

Friday, March 18, 2011


Supplements can be enticing because they offer a variety of benefits by just taking a pill or powder. The supplement industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. Supplements are available at grocery stores, pharmacies, health food stores, and on the Internet. Since there are so many supplements, it can be confusing to figure out which ones you need, if any.

Before purchasing supplements, you should determine if your diet is lacking in any particular area. I have always taken a basic multivitamin, but some people go overboard and confuse good health with how many pills they take.

Supplement manufacturers don't have to prove the claims on their labels. Many of them feature the following obligatory notice "these statements have not been evaluated by the food and drug administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease". Unlike the drug industry, herbs and supplements are not closely regulated. I'm sure there are honest companies with quality products available, but there are also a those who sell useless garbage that is nicely packaged. If you end up buying the latter, just hope the placebo effect works for you.

Some body builders chose to use creatine, protein powder, glutamine, and other supplements as a way to ratchet up their results and give them an advantage, but if they are not already eating healthy food and exercising like they should, then it is probably just a waste of money. If you think a supplement is going to get you into shape or undo the results of an unhealthy lifestyle, then you are going to be disappointed. Remember what the word supplement means. It is not a replacement for food but rather a way to supplement your nutrition.

When talking about vitamin, remember that whole foods are more complete and beneficial. If you eat a balanced diet with a variety of foods, you should be able to cover your bases. If you decide to take supplements, check expiration dates and shop around for the best deal since some supplements can be expensive. Watch out for products that promise too much and sound too good to be true and buy them from a reputable company so you don't end up wasting your money.

There are obviously certain groups of people who are more likely to benefit from supplements. These include pregnant and nursing women, vegetarians, the elderly, and those with food allergies or intolerances. I am not against supplements, I just think people should make sure they really need them first before spending their money.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Are You Getting Enough Sleep?

I thought with the recent daylight savings change, it would be appropriate to address the topic of sleep since many of us feel like we could have used a little more over the past two days. Usually waking up from a good night's sleep helps one feel refreshed and invigorated and ready to face the challenges of a new day. However, many of us don't always get enough sleep.

When I stay up late and get very little sleep I can usually function pretty well the next day but I really feel it two days later. I call this the "delayed sleep hangover" and I have heard that others experience the same thing.

Sleep deficiencies can cause health problems and compromise your overall well being. Studies show a correlation with lower sleep levels and obesity. This may sound like it contradicts logic, but when we become sleep deprived and stressed, our bodies release hormones like leptin, ghrelin, and cortisol that can adversely affect appetite and metabolism. The risk of obesity for low sleep levels applies to both children and adults. There are also health risks associated with sleeping too long, so going to the other extreme isn't the solution.

Many people have wondered how much sleep they really need. Every person is different and will require varying amounts of sleep depending on many factors. People require more if they have been doing strenuous activity, are are sick, pregnant, under stress, growing, etc. Infants and toddlers require much more sleep than adults and might sleep as much as 11-16 hours each night. Most adults only need 7-9 hours but some people claim to get by just fine on 5 or 6 hours per night. Must be nice.

My newest health commitment for the year is to have a curfew for going to bed. I have often been guilty of staying up late when I'm reading, studying, or watching a video. The problem is that the later I stay up, the less productive I am the next day. Consistently going to bed earlier will give most people around 7 hours of sleep each night. Getting more quality rest will allow your body and mind time to recuperate and prepare for the next day.

If you haven't been getting enough sleep, then I'd invite you to make the change and get to bed earlier. Set a regular schedule for when you go to bed and get up each day. I'm not sure about the wealthy or wise part, but early to bed and early to rise can make you healthier.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


I'm excited that the days are starting to get longer. I suppose they are still technically only 24 hours long, but at least they are getting lighter. Each winter I am reminded how much I miss a full day of sunlight. I love the sun but you'd never know it judging from my pale complexion.

I think the sun has gotten a bad rap due to concerns over sunburn and skin cancer. I've seen several commercials on TV reminding people of the damage that the sun can do to their skin, but I have never seen commercials that highlight the benefits of sunlight. Life would end pretty quick without it.

Sunlight triggers the production of vitamin D. Usually 10-15 minutes of direct sunlight can generate a days worth of vitamin D. The amount of time in the sun needed may vary depending on the clothing worn, skin type, your latitude, altitude, and the weather conditions. Sunlight can also be beneficial in treating psoriasis and other skin disorders. It can play a role in the immune system, and the production of hormones, neuropeptides, and endorphins.

There is also a psychological boost that comes from sunlight. Some people experience seasonal depression when they don't get enough sunlight during the winter months. I have never been diagnosed with this problem, but I can feel a huge difference when it's bright and alive outside versus how I feel during the dark and dreary months. Sometimes I feel like a solar panel and I seem to have more energy when there is more sunlight. People who consistently use sunscreen and get little sun exposure, may have to resort to vitamin D supplements compensate for the lack of sunlight.

It's important to respect the power of the sun. Especially for those who exercise outside in the heat of the day. Sunburn, sunstroke, heat stroke and skin cancer are legitimate concerns. You need to protect yourself against these and use good judgement especially in the late morning and early afternoon hours. I'm excited for this time of year when it starts to warm up and we get more sunshine. It's a beautiful thing to see people enjoying the outdoors and becoming more physically active as spring approaches.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Weight Loss Surgery

Most people know that to lose weight you have to decrease your caloric intake and or increase your energy expenditure. Some people who have struggled with their weight for years may also resort to weight loss surgery to help them. There are several medical procedures that bypass the stomach or reduce it's size so the amount of food one can eat is restricted.

I once met a man who used to weigh nearly 500 pounds. When I saw him again over a year later, he had lost over 260 pounds. He said he had bariatric surgery, and he was ecstatic because he could now fit in a chair. He said he used to eat an entire pizza every night by himself, but now he can only eat small portions, and he no longer craves food like he used to.

To be eligible for a gastric bypass procedure or other form of bariatric surgery, candidates usually have to meet the following criteria:

-Be 18 years of age or older.
-Have tried previously to lose weight through traditional means of diet and exercise.
-Have a BMI over 35 or be more than 100 pounds over weight.
-Have comorbidity symptoms (other health complications besides being overweight).
-Receive medical, nutritional, and psychological counseling prior to the procedure.

Some of the positive benefits of weight loss surgery, besides weight loss, include decreased blood pressure, decreased sleep apnea, and improved self esteem once they are finally able to lose weight after years of trying. It is also an instant cure for diabetes.

Depending on the type of procedure one has, they could potentially experience the following negative side effects.
-Nutritional deficiencies due to decreased digestion and absorption of food as a result of some procedures.
-Dumping syndrome where the stomach contents pass from the stomach to the intestine too quickly.
-Surgery complications with possible repeat procedures.

I'm not promoting weight loss surgery, but I thought it is only fair to address it since it has helped some people who have struggled for years trying to lose weight with traditional methods. It is definitely not for your average Joe who just needs to drop 30 pounds. In order to be successful long-term, patients still need to learn to eat right and exercise, so it's obviously not a substitution for healthy living but rather one way to get back to a healthier weight.