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    Natracure Blog — Diet and Nutrition

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    What’s Worse For Your Bod: Sugar Or Salt?

    Let’s settle this once and for all. These days, the saying "everything in moderation" has become a battle cry for healthy eaters everywhere—but when it comes to sugar and salt, many of us just can't help ourselves. Even though both play several essential roles in our health (the brain needs sugar for energy, and muscles need salt to contract, for example), they can also cause a wide variety of health problems when consumed in excess, says Niket Sonpal, D.O., assistant professor at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York. So which of these vices have a greater impact on our health, and why? Let's investigate. Sugar It's not so much naturally-occurring sugars (like those found in fruit) that experts have a problem with as it is refined and added sugars. "Milk and 100 percent fruit juice, for example, contain natural sugars and calories, but they also provide nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, protein (in milk), and polyphenols (in juice)," says Texas-based registered dietitian Kaleigh McMordie. Sugary beverages like soda and sweet tea, on the other hand, provide sugar and calories with little nutrition. The same goes for the majority of grab-and-go snack foods that surround us on the regular—they don't provide any nutritional benefits (like fiber, protein, or vitamins and minerals) unless they're stripped and then added back in later. Not surprisingly, overconsumption of these products can lead to obesity and nutrient deficiencies in one fell swoop, says McMordie. "All sugars, regardless of how they're labeled—white sugar, high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, evaporated cane sugar, brown sugar—have a similar effect on the body in raising blood sugar levels, causing the production of insulin," says Murdoc Khaleghi, M.D., medical director of WellnessFX. The body releases insulin in order to move sugar out of the blood and into the cells to use it as energy. Generally, this process is pretty seamless, but when you're consuming excess amounts of sugar, your body's fat storage skills go into overdrive. The uptick in insulin production can lead to insulin resistance, forcing the body to create more insulin, which then stores more fat, according to Khaleghi. Over time, insulin resistance and the subsequent weight gain from excessive sugar consumption can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes, which can increase your risk for glaucoma, is a leading cause of kidney failure, and a is major risk factor for heart attack and stroke. Worse, consumption of excess sugar, particularly refined sugars, can lead to changes in the body's metabolism and excessive inflammation, which can eventually segue into a variety of chronic diseases. "Certain kinds of sugar molecules, called fructose, are only processed by the liver," says Rachel Head, R.D., certified diabetes educator for One Drop. "When the liver is overwhelmed by processing too much fructose, a metabolic chain reaction can occur, with several studies linking this reaction to increased risks of abnormal cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, fatty liver disease, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease." Salt The human body needs salt to regulate fluids and carry electrical charges between cells. However, "while the effects of sugar are becoming increasingly understood, how salt affects our health is more debated," says Khaleghi. "For most healthy people, a moderate amount of salt is easily processed, and actually required by the body, while excess amounts may contribute to long-term health issues." Current dietary guidelines recommend that Americans consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium daily (one teaspoon). However, most people take in an average of 3,400 milligrams of sodium (the difference of one-third of a teaspoon, to put it into context), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For many years, experts believed sodium caused fluid retention in the body, and a buildup of pressure in blood vessels, leading to high blood pressure. Uncontrolled blood pressure can lead to major health problems, such as heart attack and stroke, as well as kidney and vision problems. However, the link between salt and high blood pressure has been under increased scrutiny. A 2014 study of over 8,000 French adults found that salt consumption wasn’t associated with systolic blood pressure in men or women. The study writers said that the link we assume exists between salt and blood pressure is “overstated” and “more complex than once thought.” A 2016 Women’s Health story on salt reported that there is no reliable proof that sodium actually contributes to blood pressure or the cardiac issues associated with it—rather, studies over the years have shown conflicting results about the mineral’s connection with cardiac problems. “For a regular healthy person, salt isn't necessarily detrimental when consumed in moderation,” McMordie says.  She however adds that some populations are more sensitive to salt—such as people over 50 and people who already have high blood pressure—making a change in sodium affects them more than others. A big problem with excess salt, McMordie says, is that the majority of it comes from processed and restaurant foods rather than the salt shaker. "These foods are typically also higher in fat and calories, and provide fewer nutrients than fresh foods prepared at home," says McMordie. This can lead to weight gain, among other health issues besides high blood pressure. Ok So...Which Is Worse? Neither are particularly dangerous so long as they're consumed in moderation, but head-to-head, excess sugar has more of a negative impact on your overall health, says Head. McMordie agrees: “Salt is essential for the body to function properly. Sugar is not.” A 2014 review in the journal Diabetology & Metabolic Syndrome also found that sugar can increase the negative affects of salt, too. Insulin orders your kidneys to retain sodium—and the more insulin the body produces, the more water and sodium the kidneys retain. The result? High blood pressure. To keep your sugar and salt intakes in check, focus on nutritious sources of carbs, such as whole grains, milk products, and fruit, says McMordie, and steer clear of foods that contain refined sugars and processed ingredients. Case closed. By Krissy Brady via MSN Health

    10 Ways to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

    It's that time of year when extra calories lurk around every corner -- frosted cookies at the office, eggnog at your neighbor's, jelly doughnuts for Hanukkah or chocolates in your stocking. All these extras add up, and if you're like most Americans, you'll put on a pound or two by New Year's Day. So what's the harm in a little holiday weight gain, especially if it's just a pound? According to researchers at the National Institutes of Health, most Americans never lose the weight they gain during the winter holidays. The pounds add up year after year, making holiday weight gain an important factor in adult obesity. But you don't have to fall into this trap. It is possible to enjoy holiday goodies without putting on a single pound. "Portion control is the key," says Susan Finn, PhD, RD. Finn serves as chairwoman of the American Council for Fitness and Nutrition. "I don't believe you can't eat food that you like -- even indulgences -- but it is the amount you eat," she tells WebMD. Of course, it's not easy to go on portion patrol when the temptations are endless. That's why WebMD compiled these tips to help you avoid overindulging. 1. Never Arrive Hungry New York psychologist Carol Goldberg, PhD, says planning ahead can help you maintain discipline in the face of temptation. "Don't go to a party when you're starving," she warns. Try to have a nutritious snack beforehand. If you do arrive hungry, drink some water to fill up before filling your plate. 2. Divert Your Attention Many people forget that there's more to a holiday party than food, Goldberg tells WebMD. "Don't look at the party as just a food event," she says. "Enjoy your friends' company or dancing. Focus on something other than food." Finn agrees. She says chatting is a great diversion, whether you're at a small family dinner or a large party. "Take your mind off of food and focus on the conversation." 3. Pace Yourself Have you ever tried telling yourself you'll only eat during the first half hour of a party? Goldberg says this strategy is a mistake. "If you cram in as much as you can in half an hour, you chew faster. Chewing more slowly will fill you up with less food." To munch at a leisurely pace, Finn recommends putting your fork down between every bite. "This puts you in control." 4. Count Your Canaps When there are canaps, it's easy to lose count of how many you eat. Keep track by stashing a toothpick in your pocket for each one. Set a limit and stick to it. 5. Outsmart the Buffet When dinner is served buffet-style, use the smallest plate available and don't stack your food; limit your helpings to a single story. "Go for the simplest foods on the buffet," Finn says. "Fresh fruits and vegetables and shrimp cocktail are good choices. Watch out for sauces and dips." 6. Limit Alcohol Avoid drinking too much alcohol at holiday parties. "It's not just about calories but about control," Finn explains. "If you drink a lot you, won't have as much control over what you eat." If you feel out of place without a drink, Goldberg suggests sipping water or club soda, "soyou have something to carry like everyone else." 7. Be Choosy About Sweets When it comes to dessert, be very selective. "Limit your indulgences to small portions and only what is very sensual to you," Goldberg says. Her personal rule on sweets: "If it's going to have calories, it has to be chocolate." What about sampling several desserts, if you only take a tiny bite of each one? "You have to know yourself," Goldberg says. "Some people can eat one bite of something and stop. I don't think most people can do that. "If you know you're the type who can't stop at one bite, you're better off taking a small portion of a single dessert than piling your plate with several treats you plan to "try." 8. Bring Your Own Treats Whether you're going to a friend's party or an office potluck, consider bringing a low-calorie treat that you know you'll enjoy. Bringing your own dessert will make the more fattening alternatives less tempting. And don't feel your dessert has to be typical holiday fare. "Get away from rigid thinking about what holiday food has to be," Goldberg says. "People love fruit." 9. Limit 'Tastes' While Cooking If you do a lot of cooking during the holidays, crack down on all those "tastes." "People lose their appetites when they've been cooking because they've been eating the whole time," Finn tells WebMD. Instead of tasting mindlessly every few minutes, limit yourself to two small bites of each item pre- and post-seasoning. "Just put the spoon in and taste a little bit," Finn says. "It's not grounds for a big scoop." For tried-and-true recipes, dare yourself not to taste the dish at all until it is served. 10. Walk It Off Make a new holiday tradition: the family walk. Besides burning some extra calories, this will get everyone away from the food for awhile. "Get people off the couch and move," Finn says. "Go out for a walk as a family before or after the meal." She says walking not only benefits you physically but also puts you in a mindset to be more careful about what you eat. "There's something about activity that puts you in control." By Susan G. Rabin, MA via WebMD

    5 Foods To Fight Fatigue And Boost Energy

    Five energy-boosting foods to fight fatigue, from chia seeds to milk. We've all heard our moms, babysitters, and nutritionists tell us "we are what we eat." We don't actually turn into the bagel with cream cheese we ate for breakfast, but the nutritional content of the bagel will determine the composition of the cells in our body. This is why our bodies are only as healthy and balanced as the food we feed them. Forexample, when we feel fatigue, the body is lacking energy from nutrients it needs to adequately function. In the United States, women are more prone to feeling very tired or exhausted than men. Among women aged 18 to 44, women are nearly twice as likely as men (15.7 percent versus 8.7 percent) to feel extreme fatigue. In some cases, fatigue is intense enough to interfere with living a normal life. Marci Clow, a registered dietitian and director of research and quality at Rainbow Light Nutritional Systems, believes what we fuel our body with is certainly related to feeling more energetic and less tired all the time. Therefore, when we're tired, eating nutritious whole foods is essential to boost energy and help us stay alert. "Foods that are nutrient dense and combine complex carbohydrates, healthy fat and/or protein are essential; the protein or healthy fat will keep you full and delay the absorption of carbohydrate into your bloodstream plus the carbohydrate will give you a boost of energy” Clow told Medical Daily. Below are 5 foods that help fight fatigue and keep us energized for longer. Nuts Nuts are an excellent source of energy and are rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, andhealthy fats. Macadamia nuts have the most saturated fat of all nuts, with 80 percent of their fat content being monounsaturated, which has shown to lower triglycerides and have beneficial effects on LDL and HDL cholesterol. According to Clow, you can eat them by the handful for a snack, sprinkled over yogurt, on a salad or on a stir-fry, baked into quick breads, or as nut butter. Chia Seeds Chia seeds have been touted as the ultimate fuel for running due to the use of Aztec and Mayan tribes who used chia seeds soaked in water as fuel for distance running. A 2011 study found chia seeds can be just as effective as Gatorade before running a race. They contain the antioxidant quercetin, which has been shown to enhance athletic performance and recovery. However, even for people who are not runners, “the anti-inflammatory omega-3’s are essential for peak organ function and essential immune function,” Darshi Shah, a board-certified nutritional therapist and health coach told Medical Daily. Oatmeal A good hearty breakfast is one that is super versatile and perfect for fighting fatigue. Oatmeal is a soluble fiber that actually protects against blood sugar spikes and crashes later in the day. This is because it dissolves in the intestinal tract and forms a filter that slows the absorption of sugars and fats. Oatmeal is full of fiber and has some protein, which both contribute to satiety. It also contains quality carbohydrates that are stored in the body as glycogen, and provide fuel for your brain and muscles and help stabilize blood sugar throughout the day, according to Clow. Milk Milk has a bad rep with studies about dairy constantly showing positives and negatives. Dairy has been linked to acne and weight gain, but it actually supplies the body with water, helping us maintain electrolyte balance while we sweat. A 2012 study found drinking casein, a protein in milk, at bedtime, helps relax the muscles and lull us to sleep. However, Shah doesn’t recommend a glass of cow’s milk before bed. “Today’s dairy products are not the healthiest to consume (unless you are buying organic dairy products or managing your own cow!).” Therefore, she says the same concept of going to bed with a little protein can still be applied – a small handful of almonds, sunflower seeds, or a cup of organic Soy milk or organic yogurt (protein + probiotics) will do the trick. Watermelon This summertime staple can stop us from feeling dehydrated or feeling foggy and fatigued, according to a 2011 study. At 92 percent water content, it provides fuel for our bodies, and makes it a great source of water to fight feelings of fatigue. For example, when a person is mildly dehydrated, energy levels and the ability to think clearly can be effected, which are the same symptoms that can be experienced when blood sugar levels drop. Eating a slice of watermelon will boost energy by providing glucose (fuel), plus providing hydration. “Additionally, watermelon contains an amino acid called L-citrulline which has been suggested to reduce feelings of fatigue” said Clow. By Lizette Borreli via MSN Health

    Most Vitamins Are Useless, But Here Are The Ones You Should Take

    It seems like simple, obvious advice: Eat your vegetables, get some exercise, and — of course — take your vitamins. Or not. Decades of research has failed to find any substantial evidence that vitamins and supplements do any significant good. In fact, recent studies skew in the opposite direction, having found that certain vitamins may be bad for you. Several have been linked with an increase in certain cancers, for example, while others have been tied to a rise in the risk of kidney stones. And a large new study out Wednesday suggests that despite this growing knowledge, Americans' pill-popping habits have stayed basically the same over the last decade. So here are the vitamins and supplements you should take — and the ones you should avoid: Multivitamins: Skip them — you get everything you need with a balanced diet. For decades, it was assumed that multivitamins were critical to overall health. Vitamin C to "boost your immune system," Vitamin A to protect your vision, Vitamin B to keep you energized. Not only do you already get these ingredients from the food you eat, but studies suggest that consuming them in excess can actually cause harm. A large 2011 study of close to 39,000 older women over 25 years found that women who took them in the long term actually had a higher overall risk of death than those who did not. Vitamin D: Take it — It helps keep your bones strong and it's hard to get from food. Vitamin D isn't present in most of the foods we eat, but it's a critical ingredient that keeps our bones strong by helping us absorb calcium. Getting sunlight helps our bodies produce it as well, but it can be tough to get enough in the winter. Several recent study reviews have found that people who took Vitamin D supplements daily lived longer, on average, than those who didn't. Antioxidants: Skip them — an excess of these has been linked to an increased risk of certain cancers, and you can eat berries instead. Vitamins A, C, and E are antioxidants found in plentiful form in many fruits — especially berries — and veggies, and they've been touted for their alleged ability to protect against cancer. But studies suggest that when taken in excess, antioxidants can actually be harmful. A large, long-term study of male smokers found that those who regularly took Vitamin A were more likely to get lung cancer than those who didn't. And a 2007 review of trials of several different types of antioxidant supplements put it this way: "Treatment with beta carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E may increase mortality. Vitamin C: Skip it — it probably won't help you get over your cold, and you can eat citrus fruits instead. The Vitamin C hype — which started with a suggestion from chemist Linus Pauling made in the 1970s and has peaked with Airborne and Emergen-C — is just that: hype. Study after study has shown that Vitamin C does little to nothing to prevent the common cold. Plus, megadoses of 2,000 milligrams or more can raise your risk of painful kidney stones. So get your Vitamin C from your food instead. Strawberries are packed with the nutrient. Vitamin B3: Skip it and eat salmon, tuna, or beets instead. For years, Vitamin B3 was promoted to treat everything from Alzheimer's to heart disease. But recent studies have called for an end to the over-prescription of the nutrient. A large 2014 study of more than 25,000 people with heart disease found that putting people on long-acting doses of Vitamin B3 to raise their levels of "good," or HDL, cholesterol didn't reduce the incidence of heart attacks, strokes, or deaths. Plus, people in the study who took the B3 supplements were more likely than those taking a placebo to develop infections, liver problems, and internal bleeding. Probiotics: Skip them — the science isn't advanced enough yet for them to have a significant benefit, and you can eat yogurt instead. Probiotics — pricey bacterial supplements that can cost upward of $1 per pill but are found naturally in smaller amounts in yogurt and other fermented foods — have become a big business with a market of roughly $23.1 billion in 2012. The idea behind them is simple: Support the trillions of bacteria blossoming in our gut which we know play a crucial role in regulating our health. But putting that idea into actual practice has been a bit more complicated. So far, the effects of probiotics have been all over the map. Sometimes they help, sometimes they don't. So rather than shelling out for a pill that promises to be a cure-all, snack on a parfait. Zinc: Take it — it's one of the only ingredients linked to shortening a cold. Unlike Vitamin C, which studies have found likely does nothing to prevent or treat the common cold, zinc may actually be worth it. The mineral seems to interfere with the replication of rhinoviruses, the bugs that cause the common cold. In a 2011 review of studies of people who'd recently gotten sick, researchers looked at those who'd started taking zinc and compared them with those who just took a placebo. The ones on the zinc had shorter colds and less severe symptoms. Vitamin E: Skip it — an excess has been linked to an increased risk of certain cancers, and you can eat spinach instead. The antioxidant Vitamin E was popularized for its alleged ability to protect against cancer. But a large 2011 study of close to 36,000 men found that the risk of prostate cancer actually increased among the men taking Vitamin E compared to the men taking a placebo. And a 2005 study linked high doses of Vitamin E with an overall higher risk of death. So if you're looking for more Vitamin E, make yourself a fresh spinach salad and skip the pill. Dark greens like spinach are rich with this stuff. Folic acid: Take it if you're pregnant or if you might want to get pregnant. Folic acid is a B vitamin which our bodies use to make new cells. The National Institutes of Health recommends that women who are currently pregnant or who want to get pregnant take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily because their bodies demand more of this key nutrient when they are carrying a growing fetus. Additionally, several large studies have linked folic acid supplementation before and during pregnancy with decreased rates of neural-tube defects, serious and life-threatening birth defects of the baby's brain, spine, or spinal cord. By Erin Brodwin via MSN Health

    11 Foods That Lower Cholesterol

    If your diet gave you high cholesterol, it can lower it, too. It's easy to eat your way to an alarmingly high cholesterol level. The reverse is true, too — changing what you eat can lower your cholesterol and improve the armada of fats floating through your bloodstream. Doing this requires a two-pronged strategy: Add foods that lower LDL, the harmful cholesterol-carrying particle that contributes to artery-clogging atherosclerosis. At the same time, cut back on foods that boost LDL. Without that step, you are engaging in a holding action instead of a steady — and tasty — victory. In with the good Different foods lower cholesterol in various ways. Some deliver soluble fiber, which binds cholesterol and its precursors in the digestive system and drags them out of the body before they get into circulation. Some give you polyunsaturated fats, which directly lower LDL. And some contain plant sterols and stanols, which block the body from absorbing cholesterol. 1. Oats. An easy first step to improving your cholesterol is having a bowl of oatmeal or cold oat-based cereal like Cheerios for breakfast. It gives you 1 to 2 grams of soluble fiber. Add a banana or some strawberries for another half-gram. Current nutrition guidelines recommend getting 20 to 35 grams of fiber a day, with at least 5 to 10 grams coming from soluble fiber. (The average American gets about half that amount.) 2. Barley and other whole grains. Like oats and oat bran, barley and other whole grains can help lower the risk of heart disease, mainly via the soluble fiber they deliver. 3. Beans. Beans are especially rich in soluble fiber. They also take awhile for the body to digest, meaning you feel full for longer after a meal. That's one reason beans are a useful food for folks trying to lose weight. With so many choices — from navy and kidney beans to lentils, garbanzos, black-eyed peas, and beyond — and so many ways to prepare them, beans are a very versatile food. 4. Eggplant and okra. These two low-calorie vegetables are good sources of soluble fiber. 5. Nuts. A bushel of studies shows that eating almonds, walnuts, peanuts, and other nuts is good for the heart. Eating 2 ounces of nuts a day can slightly lower LDL, on the order of 5%. Nuts have additional nutrients that protect the heart in other ways. 6. Vegetable oils. Using liquid vegetable oils such as canola, sunflower, safflower, and others in place of butter, lard, or shortening when cooking or at the table helps lower LDL. 7. Apples, grapes, strawberries, citrus fruits. These fruits are rich in pectin, a type of soluble fiber that lowers LDL. 8. Foods fortified with sterols and stanols. Sterols and stanols extracted from plants gum up the body's ability to absorb cholesterol from food. Companies are adding them to foods ranging from margarine and granola bars to orange juice and chocolate. They're also available as supplements. Getting 2 grams of plant sterols or stanols a day can lower LDL cholesterol by about 10%. 9. Soy. Eating soybeans and foods made from them, like tofu and soy milk, was once touted as a powerful way to lower cholesterol. Analyses show that the effect is more modest — consuming 25 grams of soy protein a day (10 ounces of tofu or 2 1/2 cups of soy milk) can lower LDL by 5% to 6%. 10. Fatty fish. Eating fish two or three times a week can lower LDL in two ways: by replacing meat, which has LDL-boosting saturated fats, and by delivering LDL-lowering omega-3 fats. Omega-3s reduce triglycerides in the bloodstream and also protect the heart by helping prevent the onset of abnormal heart rhythms. 11. Fiber supplements. Supplements offer the least appealing way to get soluble fiber. Two teaspoons a day of psyllium, which is found in Metamucil and other bulk-forming laxatives, provide about 4 grams of soluble fiber. Out with the bad Harmful LDL creeps upward and protective HDL drifts downward largely because of diet and other lifestyle choices. Genes play a role, too — some people are genetically programmed to respond more readily to what they eat — but genes aren't something you can change. Here are four things you can: Saturated fats. Typical sources of saturated fat include animal products, such as red meat, whole-fat dairy products, and eggs, and also a few vegetable oils, such as palm oil, coconut oil, and cocoa butter. Saturated fat can increase your levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol. But it has some benefits, too — it lowers triglycerides and nudges up levels of "good" HDL cholesterol. The role of saturated fat in heart disease is currently under debate. For now, it's best to limit your intake of saturated-fat-rich foods. Trans fats. The right amount of trans fats is zero! Trans fats are a byproduct of the chemical reaction that turns liquid vegetable oil into solid margarine or shortening and that prevents liquid vegetable oils from turning rancid. These fats have no nutritional value — and we know for certain they are bad for heart health. Trans fats increase LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels while reducing levels of HDL cholesterol. Recently, the FDA banned trans fats from the U.S. food supply. The phasing-out process is expected to take three years. The encouraging news is that many major food suppliers and restaurants have already substituted healthier fats for trans fats. Weight and exercise. Being overweight and not exercising affect fats circulating in the bloodstream. Excess weight boosts harmful LDL, while inactivity depresses protective HDL. Losing weight if needed and exercising more reverse these trends. Putting it all together When it comes to investing money, experts recommend creating a portfolio of diverse investments instead of putting all your eggs in one basket. The same holds true for eating your way to lower cholesterol. Adding several foods that fight high cholesterol in different ways should work better than focusing on one or two. A largely vegetarian "dietary portfolio of cholesterol-lowering foods" substantially loweredLDL, triglycerides, and blood pressure. The key dietary components are plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains instead of highly refined ones, and protein mostly from plants. Add margarine enriched with plant sterols; oats, barley, psyllium, okra, and eggplant, all rich in soluble fiber; soy protein; and whole almonds. Of course, shifting to a cholesterol-lowering diet takes more attention than popping a daily statin. It means expanding the variety of foods you usually put in your shopping cart and getting used to new textures and flavors. But it's a "natural" way to lower cholesterol, and it avoids the risk of muscle problems and other side effects that plague some people who take statins. Just as important, a diet that is heavy on fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts is good for the body in ways beyond lowering cholesterol. It keeps blood pressure in check. It helps arteries stay flexible and responsive. It's good for bones and digestive health, for vision and mental health. Via Harvard Health Publications