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Mitochondria part 2

Tour de France

One more post on weight loss (or gain), mitochondria density, and metabolic health and then I’ll get back to posting some healthy, gluten-free recipes. I promise. But before I do that, I have to fill in the blanks from my prior post on this subject. To catch up, please see part one—the mitochondria: your own starship enterprise. This two-part series features highlights from last June’s Fitness & Health Bloggers Conference held at the newly opened Anschutz Health & Wellness Center.

Okay, are you ready for a different take on weight loss? Curious, even?

Dr. Iñigo San Millán is the director of the Human Performance Lab at the Anschutz Center. He’s an exercise physiologist and his conference presentation brought together two different areas of customized approaches to fitness. On one end, we have the average person trying to lose weight and get healthy. On the other end, we have world-class, elite, endurance athletes. You know—the kind of people who run ultra-marathons, break world records, win Olympic medals, ride in the Tour de France. Yes, I know, there’s a big gap between average and elite. But according to Dr. San Millán, we have a lot to learn from elite athletes and can apply the same general principles of metabolic health to our own pursuit of fitness.

What is metabolic health, you ask? Overall, it means being healthy and fit in all aspects and on a whole body level (on a cardiovascular, hormonal, emotional, nutritional, and cellular level). Sounds rather yogic, doesn’t it? Mind, body, and spirit health.

Dr. San Millán tossed out some brutal facts about the rising rates of obesity, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease in the United States. Sixty-eight to seventy percent of the US population is overweight or obese. Two-thirds of Americans are on some sort of diet or weight-loss program at any given time, but 98% of weight loss is gained back. That roller-coaster ride of weight gain, weight loss, weight gain undermines metabolic health and makes it increasingly harder to lose the weight. What’s the answer?

It’s complicated and there’s no magic formula, but there’s a positive side to this. We can make health-enhancing changes at anytime of life. It’s never too late to eat better and move more. BUT, it has to become a way of life, not a temporary “diet” or periodic exercise program.

According to Dr. San Millán, elite endurance athletes are the most fit people on the planet and the only population totally free of acquired metabolic and cardiovascular disease. As Dr. San Millán said in his talk, “Simply, it doesn’t exist.”

So, what makes these elite athletes metabolic super-stars?

High mitochondrial density and metabolic flexibility.

Huh?

In a nutshell: cellular energy requirements control how many mitochondria we have (in “healthy” individuals without a genetic mitochondrial disorder). The more we move (walk, run, hike, bike, ski, play tennis), the more mitochondria we have. Endurance athletes have twice the mitochondrial content as sedentary individuals (Davis et al., 1981, 1982). The more mitochondria we have, the more efficiently we process carbs and fat. The more efficiently we process carbs and fat, the less likely we are to be overweight. If we maintain a healthy weight, there is less risk of insulin resistance, diabetes, and heart disease.

See those legs in the above cycling photo? That’s turbo-charged mitochondrial density in action. It’s unlikely any of those cyclists are overweight or have type 2 diabetes or heart disease. Tour de France riders consume an average of 6000–9000 calories per day. Of those, 75–80% are carbs. Michael Phelps told ESPN that he consumes 8000–10000 calories per day during training and competition. Again, a high percentage are carbs.

Okay, sounds good, but where do we start? And comparing ourselves to elite athletes is a little intimidating, wouldn’t you agree? I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to be running marathons anytime soon. Plus, we’re all different. Each body is unique. We have different adaptations to exercise and different responses to what we eat. But, the good news is, it doesn’t matter how old we are or what shape we’re in, we can make positive changes. We can lose weight. We can eat better. We can become healthier. We can increase our mitochondria and enhance our ability to process carbs and fat. We can thrive.

    

Here’s the deal. According to Dr. San Millán, physical activity should be the foundation, boosted by a healthy diet. And that healthy diet can include carbs. Healthy carbs aren’t evil, we just need to move our bodies daily to be efficient at processing those carbs.

I agree. We need to make time for activity, at least an hour a day, more if possible. You don’t have to go to the gym or buy expensive equipment. Dance, do yoga, garden, walk your dog, sell your car, move to Paris, become Amish. It’s about permanent lifestyle changes; it’s not about dieting. We need to move more to lose weight, maintain metabolic health, and avoid type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

We don’t have to be an elite athlete, but we can learn from them.

Peace, love, and physical activity! Lots of it. Weight loss will be the side effect!
Melissa

Sjögren’s Venus & gluten

Last year around this time, Venus Williams dropped out of the U.S. Open and revealed that she was suffering from Sjögren’s syndrome, a chronic autoimmune disorder. Yesterday, the 7-time Grand Slam champion made another early exit from the US Open with a dramatic loss to sixth-seeded Angelique Kerber.

I started this blog (Gluten-Free For Good) in 2007, mainly to increase awareness of celiac disease and help people thrive on the GF diet. Not just get by, but to live active, radiant, and healthy lives. Today’s post was supposed to be part #2 of a series on mitochondria density, elite athletes, weight loss, and exercise, but I decided to put that one on hold to focus on Venus and Sjögren’s.

Hey, did I just hear a collective sigh of relief? I promise, you’ll find the whole mitochondria density thing and weight loss interesting once I get to it.

Okay, some of you will find it interesting.

A few of you?

Anyway, back to Venus, Sjögren’s syndrome, and … gluten.

Sjögren’s is a systemic autoimmune disease in which a person’s white blood cells mistakenly attack their moisture-producing glands causing serious complications throughout the body. Dry eyes and dry mouth are distinct features of the disease, but chronic fatigue, joint and muscle pain, gastrointestinal problems, heartburn, reflux, esophagitis, neurological problems, brain fog, peripheral neuropathy (numbness and tingling in the extremities), abnormal liver function, pancreatic disorders, and Raynaud’s disease (among others) can also be present. Women are disproportionately affected with Sjögren’s (9:1).

Sound familiar?

Sjögren’s is a red flag for celiac disease. It frequently occurs in the presence of another autoimmune disease, often connective tissue disorders like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. Many of these autoimmune diseases sound like versions of the same thing, with just a few variations. Each condition typically has a few hallmark features, but so many of the symptoms are similar. Autoimmune diseases hang around together.

The gluten-free diet is the medical protocol for celiac disease. Why not for all autoimmune diseases? Gluten causes inflammation. Decreasing inflammation via diet and lifestyle should be the first step in reducing the impact of the disease, so it makes sense to eliminate gluten.

Right?

Apparently Venus is on a vegan diet to combat her symptoms. There are rumors she’s dabbling in the gluten-free diet as well.

Go for it, Venus! Eliminate gluten FOREVER.

What are your thoughts? Do any of you have Sjögren’s and celiac disease? Should everyone with autoimmune complications, regardless of what they are, be on a nutrient-dense, whole-foods, gluten-free, dairy-free diet?

That’s my opinion.

Are any of you BFFs with Venus? Her current boyfriend? Sister Serena?

I’d love to send her a copy of our (co-written with friend, colleague, and endurance athlete Peter Bronski of No Gluten, No Problem) newly released book The Gluten-Free Edge: A Nutrition and Training Guide for Peak Athletic Performance and an Active Gluten-Free Life. Tip me off if you know Venus. I’ll send her (and you) a copy of the book.

Peace, love, and gluten-free power serves. (Not that I have a clue about powerful serves. Dink, dink.)
Melissa

Photo of Venus courtesy of PhotoBucket

mitochondria: your own Starship Enterprise

Wait!

Don’t leave.

This is good information, especially if you want to lose weight, maintain a healthy weight, avoid type 2 diabetes (maybe even reverse it), boost your energy, and generally enhance your health and vitality.

Seriously, if nothing else, who doesn’t want more energy?

This will be a 2-part blog post. I have too much information to share with you in one shot. Last June I attended the Fitness & Health Blogger’s Conference at the new (and amazing) Anschutz Health & Wellness Center on the University of Colorado’s Medical School campus here in Denver. The conference, put on by the awesome folks at Zephyr Adventures, included everything from world-class speakers and organic food to optional exercise classes in a state-of-the-art fitness center. We were also treated to a tour of the metabolic kitchen and dinner on the urban garden green roof. For someone with a background in exercise science and nutrition, this was my kind of conference. Plus, we got to wear workout clothes the whole time. It makes it much easier to squirm around and sit cross-legged in a lecture hall if you’re barefoot and wearing yoga pants.

Dr. James Hill is the founder and Executive Director of the Health and Wellness Center. He’s also the co-founder of the National Weight Control Registry and America on the Move, a national weight-gain prevention initiative. He kicked off the conference with a presentation on The Importance of Evidence Based Approaches to Health and Wellness. The audience, mostly fitness bloggers, loved him. He’s a leading expert on obesity, food policy, environmental changes, genetic influences on energy balance, the health consequences of inactivity, and on and on and on. The guy is brilliant and has a great sense of humor. Perfect combo!

One of Dr. Hill’s slides was a map of US obesity rates. In 2008 Colorado “weighed” in as the fittest state with an obesity prevalence of 15%-19%. A few days ago, new numbers were announced. In one article, Colorado was called the “skinniest” state with a new rate of 20.7%. I’m proud of Colorado (born and raised here), but calling us the skinniest state with an obesity rate of almost 21% is misleading. Our obesity rate has doubled since 1995. Dr. Hill suggested that Colorado is simply the caboose on a fast moving train going the wrong direction. We’re still the fittest state, but we’re gaining just like everyone else. The highest obesity rates in general are in adults over age 40, ranging from 36% to 42%. That’s a big segment of the population.

What do you think? Which is more important in causing weight gain—diet or inactivity?

Dr. Hill asked the audience that question and the responses were all over the place. It’s a complex issue and he encouraged lively debate. That’s the mark of a good teacher!

Our genes haven’t changed since the 50s and 60s, but our environment has. Our lifestyles are different. We don’t move as much as our parents and grandparents did and we don’t eat the same food they ate. Obesity is the adaptation to this new environment. Our ancestors ate whenever food was available and rested whenever they could. It was a biological necessity. Now, abundant, cheap, and poor-quality food is available at every turn and we don’t even have to get off our bums to prepare it, let alone find or catch it. We can pick up the phone (now conveniently unattached from the wall) and order it to be delivered. If we’re out and about, all we have to do is pull through a drive-up window and have someone toss a bag of food to us.

We have to motivate ourselves to move. Now it’s called exercise. It used to be the way we lived.

How many motivational sayings do you see posted on Facebook or Twitter each day? I’m “guilty” of that. I post upbeat, motivational ramblings on a regular basis. We sit on our bums in front of our computers and tell each other to get out and do something. It’s actually rather silly when you think about it.

As many of you know, I spent the past year co-writing a book with friend, colleague, and endurance athlete Pete Bronski of the blog No Gluten, No Problem. I sat at my computer for long hours, fretted over my writing, stressed about hitting deadlines, and didn’t move as much as I normally do. I’m in that over 40 (way over 40 in my case) category and I gained several pounds. Under 10, but over 6—I’m actually not sure how much weight I gained, but regardless of the amount, “contents did shift” and I don’t like the feeling. It’s easier to gain weight when we’re older because our body composition changes. We typically have less metabolically active muscle tissue because we don’t move as much. I’m on a mission to change that. I started last March. Check metabolism, weight loss, yoga & flexible genes for the back-story.

If you diet alone to lose weight, your metabolic rate will go down. That’s not good. Dr. Hill noted that one of the characteristics of people who were successful in losing weight and keeping it off was 60-90 minutes of exercise per day. And if you’re considerably overweight to begin with, you’ll have to work harder to lose the weight because of the metabolic difference between lean muscle and fat. It’s not easy and my heart goes out to people who have this challenge. Just losing my few pounds has been difficult. I can only imagine how overwhelming it would be to have 50, 60, or 100 pounds to lose. But it can be done. It takes lots of time (years maybe); an overall strategy of simple, small changes; a scale (horrors!); patience; good food; and lots of movement. LOTS of movement.

The point is to increase mitochondrial density, which will increase the ability to efficiently process fat. Although the biochemical process is complicated, the point is pretty straightforward. Increase muscle, decrease fat.

I’ll leave you with a definition of the mitochondria and we’ll launch into part 2 next week—Pursuing Metabolic Health: What we have Learned from Elite Endurance Athletes with Dr. Iñigo San Millán. Dr. San Millán is the director of the Exercise Physiology and Human Performance Lab at the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center and did a stellar presentation on the importance of movement, mitochondrial density, and fat loss. If you stick with me for part 2, you’ll see that there is always hope. We can make positive changes at any age and the mitochondria is our Starship Enterprise!

Mitochondria
A double-membraned organelle that plays a central role in the production of ATP (energy-carrying molecule); known as the powerhouse of the cell. Mitochondria are small, spherical, rod-shaped, or filamentous structures that appear throughout the cytoplasm (material within a cell, excluding the nucleus). Mitochondria are self-replicative. Yay! They replicate in response to the increased cellular need for energy. Exercise causes an increase in mitochondria, which is a GOOD thing. We need to do that to lose weight and keep it off. FOREVER.

More on that in part 2.

Note: For more information on obesity statistics and recipe rehab, check the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center’s Tools & Resources link. If you’re in the Denver area, check their Programs & Services. And if you’re interested in gluten-free living and thriving, check our new book, The Gluten-Free Edge: A Nutrition and Training Guide for Peak Athletic Performance and an Active Gluten-Free Life

Peace, love, and mitochondrial density!
Melissa

The athlete’s recovery cocktail (sportini)

My last post focused on hydration and featured a power-packed smoothie recipe. I’m still on my hydration and recovery kick, but this time I’ll serve you up a nice “end of the day, I’m absolutely exhausted” recovery cocktail. I’m calling these evening, post-workout drinks sportinis. No alcohol needed. At least not most of the time. And, in my case, certainly not after an energy-draining, dust-collecting, 20 mile, single-track mountain bike ride. I’ll explain the alcohol piece shortly.

As some of you may know, I’m on a mission to get in shape and lose the extra pounds I gained over the winter co-writing a book on sports nutrition with friend, colleague, and ultra-endurance athlete, Pete Bronski of No Gluten No Problem. The Gluten-Free Edge: A Nutrition and Training Guide for Peak Athletic Performance and an Active Gluten-Free Life will be released in June. If you’re interested (semi-shameless plug), you can pre-order it here.

Aahh, the irony of sitting on my bum for long hours writing about nutrition, sports, and wellness—a downgrade in fitness and health, an uptick in weight and low energy. Life is a roller coaster ride at times, wouldn’t you agree?

Regardless of the ups and downs of life, it’s never too late to jump back on the healthy-living bandwagon. Never give up. Check here if you need some serious motivation – Arthur went from disabled, depressed, overweight vet to headstand-crow-chaturanga. Wow.

As Arthur demonstrates, it’s possible to have major gains in strength, aerobic capacity, energy, and over-all radiance if you put your mind and body into it – no matter where you are on the health spectrum. But, as you can see from the video, it takes foot-stomping commitment.

Now, back to the alcohol piece. Studies show that alcohol disrupts sleep patterns, even in low doses. Yes, as little as one glass of wine can impact sleep. You might fall asleep okay, but as your body starts metabolizing the alcohol, sleep becomes progressively more erratic and disturbed. Here’s what happens in a nutshell (or, in this case, a shot glass). You have your glass of red wine. You feel warm and mellow, relaxed and sleepy. An hour or two later you go to bed and fall asleep easily. The first half of the night goes well.

Zzzzzz.

And then, out of nowhere, you wake up at 1:12 AM. That’s a measly four hours after you fell asleep. And no matter what you do, you can’t seem to find na-na land again.

Toss. Turn. Pillow flip. Check the clock. Worry about lost sleep. Start fretting about bizarre things.

Oh my gosh, what if the refrigerator stops working? Did I pay my phone bill? Maybe I should get a puppy. What’s the deal with putting hot dogs in pizza crusts? Disgusting. I hate it that people get Parkinson’s disease. Did I shut the garage door? I’ll probably get another Alaskan Malamute if I get a puppy. Yikes! What was that noise? Is someone in the house? I’m hungry. And tired. Wish I could go to sleep.

Repeat frustrating cycle while incorporating new random worries. Kick covers. Curse crickets.

You get the idea. I don’t have time for that. I need eight hours of sleep. Straight. So, if I want to feel my best and reach my summer sports goals, I have to skip the wine (most of the time anyway, there are exceptions). Here’s where the sportini comes in. After a long day of work topped off with an evening mountain bike ride, I want to feel like I’m having something special like a glass of wine, but without the 2 AM pillow tossing. My post-exercise, recovery cocktails (mocktails/sportinis) replenish lost electrolytes and glycogen stores, provide antioxidants and phytochemicals, and boost hydration. Plus, they feel kind of special like I’m celebrating.

Lemon-lime-mint recovery cocktail (sportini)
Makes 1 large or 2 small servings

what you need
8 ounces S. Pellegrino sparkling mineral water
8 ounces Recharge organic lemon sports drink
1 organic lime (the fresh-squeezed juice and a little zest)
1 organic orange (the fresh-squeezed juice and zest)
1-2 fresh organic mint leaves

what you do
Place mineral water, Recharge, lime juice, orange juice, and zest in a shaker (I use a mason jar). Shake well. Add ice if desired (I don’t like ice, ever). Pour into a fancy glass, top with crushed mint leaves, stir gently, and enjoy.

PER SERVING: 182 calories; 0 g fat; 48 g carbohydrate; 4 g protein; 7 g fiber
SPORTS NUTRITION BONUS: excellent source of vitamin C; contains iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, B vitamins, vitamin A (see details below, click table to enlarge)

Cheers!
Melissa
P.S. Stay tuned for upcoming book give-aways to highlight May as Celiac Disease Awareness Month.

Hydration and recovery (recipe included)

I have a friend (as brilliant as he is) who recently spent a day or so recovering from a self-induced, internal drought. He was miserable.

If you’re an active person, you’ve probably experienced an imbalance between water intake and water loss at one time or another during an extended period of exercise. It’s not pleasant and greatly impacts your performance whether you’re out for long mountain bike ride or playing a hard-fought tennis match. Exercise capacity can be compromised when a person is dehydrated by as little as 2% of body weight. That’s not much.

We often focus on food sources of fuel, but fatigue during exercise may be the result of dehydration as much as from lack of nutrient intake. It takes much longer to recover from a hydration deficit than it does from a food (energy) deficit. You can eat a banana or a handful of jelly beans and feel better in minutes, but if fluid intake is compromised, it takes a lot longer to recover. If you’re feeling like a saguaro cactus—hot, parched, and moisture-deprived—it will take hours for fluids to trickle back into your blood plasma, muscles, and intracellular fluids. It’s best to make sure you’re well-hydrated to begin with and take measures to stay hydrated while active.

Sip, sip, sip.

And guess what? Food counts as hydration. At least some food does. Processed food contains no water. Raw vegetables and fruit contain quite a bit and come with a supporting cast of nutrients, including sodium, potassium, and magnesium—critical electrolytes lost through sweating.

Power-packed, pre- or post-exercise smoothie (a great combo of ingredients for hydration, performance, and recovery)
Makes one mega serving, or two if you’re forced to share

1-1/2 cups coconut water
1 small banana
1/3 cup frozen cherries
1/3 cup chopped cucumber
1/3 cup chopped raw beets
1 stalk celery, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 tablespoon flax seeds, ground

Place all ingredients in a high-powered blender and pulse until smooth. Makes about 22 ounces (1-3/4 cups).

PER SERVING: 350 calories; 7 g fat; 70 g carbohydrate; 8 g protein; 13 g fiber
Nutrition Bonus: vitamin C; magnesium; phosphorus; sodium; potassium; thiamin; selenium; zinc

For a detailed post on the differences in high-powered blenders, check this post from my friend Alexa at Lexie’s Kitchen. She’s the blender guru. I have a VitaMix and I love it, but there are several other blenders on the market that will also pulverize chopped beets and celery.

Peace, love, and plant power!
Melissa

Gluten ataxia and cerebellar juggling

I’m guessing you probably stopped by hoping to find a recipe for something exciting like peanut-butter chocolate cake or frosted cinnamon rolls. Maybe a nice cheesy casserole or a chocolate Easter bunny.

Sorry.

I’ve been sidetracked lately by the dazzling microcircuitry and super-powers of the cerebellum, my favorite brain region. You might want to stick with me on this, especially if you’re curious about the many ways gluten can wreak havoc on your health and derail your Cirque du Soleil ambitions.

Here’s the deal.

Ataxia is a lack of muscular coordination and balance. It’s a loss of precise movement. The main function of the cerebellum is to evaluate how well movements initiated by motor areas of the brain are actually being carried out. It’s responsible for orchestrating muscular action in a controlled way. If the motor areas of the brain aren’t skillfully doing their jobs, the cerebellum detects the discrepancies and via a complex network of feedback signals, attempts to correct the errors.

If you want to ride a unicycle and juggle while being distracted by women in short skirts twirling around on roller skates, you better have a high-functioning cerebellum. Do you remember world-class, short track, speed skating champion, Apolo Ohno? Didn’t it make you a little nervous watching him bumping elbows with the South Koreans while taking corners at high speeds? He was practically horizontal. My gosh, how did he manage to stay upright (at least most of the time)? That kind of movement takes dynamic balance, sensory control, reflex adjustment, and incredible coordination. The cerebellum takes note of everything that’s going on with the body in space and makes instant adaptations to maintain equilibrium.

That’s if nothing is sabotaging its performance (and yours).

This under-appreciated little structure of lobes, white matter, grey matter, and other assorted goodies accounts for only 10% of the brain mass, but contains approximately half the neurons (specialized nerve cells) in the brain. That gives you an idea of how important it is. Researchers are also finding the cerebellum plays a roll in cognitive function and language. There’s a lot going on in that part of the brain.

Now throw some gluten into the mix and you might have problems with even the simplest of movements. Like walking, skipping, catching a slow-moving beach ball, or retrieving a word from the tip of your tongue. Cerebellar ataxia is one of the most common neurological manifestations of gluten intolerance.

Dr. Alessio Fasano, world-renowned celiac specialist and Italian cutie-pie (well, isn’t he?) from the University of Maryland’s Celiac Research Center says, “The gut is not like Las Vegas. What happens in the gut doesn’t stay in the gut.”

Such is the case with gluten ataxia. People with the genetic and environmental susceptibility to gluten ataxia may not even have gastrointestinal symptoms, although the problems begin when gluten hits the small intestine. Unfortunately, the potential for damage doesn’t stay there. It can also have an impact on the brain. Studies show that 60% of patients with gluten ataxia show cerebellar atrophy on MRI. One study I read suggested that prolonged exposure to gluten in people with gluten ataxia was irreversible. Obviously, the sooner the diagnosis, the better. I’m not a doctor (I’m a nutritionist taking ballet lessons), but I believe a healthy gluten-free diet of nourishing whole foods and activities that stimulate cerebellar function can do wonders for people with neurological problems and can be protective for those without.

What kind of activities?

Dance lessons, yoga, tai chi, juggling, tennis—any activity that requires balance, movement, and attention to detail. Even tossing a beach ball back and forth stimulates the movement centers of the brain. Research shows that structural changes occur in the brains of people who engage in activities that require balance and coordination—jugglers, basketball players, speed skaters, dancers. If there is evidence of architectural changes, then why not exercise your cerebellum? Nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Plus, you might have fun in the process. Latin dance lessons? Ballet?

Check out this video of cerebellar rock stars, Bob, Trish, Chip and Laura. It’s short (1:17), fun, and will give you an idea of what it’s like to have a top-notch sense of balance and coordination. This kind of skill takes a lot of dedication and practice and I bet on MRI, these folks would have a blue ribbon network of neurons guiding their movements. They’re exercising their bodies, but they’re giving their brains a workout as well.

Basketball-Juggling Trick Shot (Chip and Laura Edition) with Bob and Trish

Dance, twirl, and exercise your brain. Your cerebellum with thank you.
Melissa

Resources:
• Sultan, F et al., “The cerebellum: Comparative animal studies,” The Cerebellum, 2007; 6: 168–176.
• Hadjivassiliou, M et al., “Gluten Sensitivity: from gut to brain,” Lancet Neural, 2010; 9: 318-330.
• Sapone, A et al., “Spectrum of gluten-related disorders: consensus on new nomenclature and classification,” MBC Medicine, 2012; 10: 13.
• “Skaters’ Brains: Specialized training of complex motor skills may induce sports-specific structural changes in the cerebellum,” ScienceDaily, March 26, 2012; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120326112918.htm (accessed March 26, 2012)
• Gerard J. Tortora et al., Principles of Anatomy & Physiology (New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2003), 462-463, 472.
• William D. McArdle et al., Exercise Physiology: Energy, Nutrition, and Human Performance (Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2007).

Collard greens for breakfast (wait, don’t unsubscribe yet)

After last week’s nerd post, which stimulated a steady stream of UNsubscribers, I’m going to make this week’s post short, savory, and to the point. Regardless of my dwindling followers, I’m going to stick with my theme. Stomp, stomp.

I’m on a fitness binge. Low calorie, nutrient dense food mixed with jogging, strength work, and yoga.

Heelllooo sulky metabolism. Get your ass in gear!

That’s my goal right now. Here’s an example of the kinds of food I’m kick-starting my days with. For part one of this breakfast series, check here.

Collard greens and brown rice (yes, for breakfast)
What you need
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup diced onion
2-4 Brussels sprouts, sliced
2-4 mushrooms, sliced
1 carrot, shredded
2 cups collard greens, thinly sliced in ribbons to avoid “rubber glove texture syndrome”
1/3 to 1/2 cup cooked brown rice (I like Lundberg Organic Golden Rose for breakfast)
1/4 cup broth (chicken or vegetable)
Simply Organic All-Purpose Seasoning, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper

What you do
1. Heat the coconut oil in a large skillet over low-medium. Add onions, garlic, Brussels sprouts, and mushrooms and sauté, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. Add carrots, collard greens, rice, broth, and seasonings. Turn heat to low and mix well until collard greens are slightly wilted and rice is heated, about 5 minutes.
2. Serve immediately, wait two hours, and jog for 3 miles.

Check here for a detailed post on the nutritional value of collard greens and a “greens and beans” recipe.

Peace, love, and collard greens.
Melissa

metabolism, weight loss, yoga & flexible genes

Warning: science post, no recipe, bail out now unless you have a curious personality. You know the type. Always asking questions, perpetually wondering, head-in-the-clouds explorer. I’ll post a follow-up recipe to my healthy breakfast series next week, but for now, I’m on a mission.

I’ve gained several pounds over the past few weeks and I did it quite easily, which surprised me. Check here to see why I gained the weight. I’m determined to lose it before it becomes my new normal, but I’ve also been curious as to why I gained it so easily. My eating habits didn’t change that much. My exercise routine was slightly different, but I kept up with my yoga practice.

Are you still with me?

Let’s start at the beginning. Literally.

I love this video from Virginia Hughes at The Last Word On Nothing because it’s short, charming, and incredibly creative. If you want a better understanding of your irregularly arranged DNA and how your unique version of this dynamic, coiled jumble of genes makes you the special (or quirky) person you are, watch this short (less than 2 minutes) video.

(Please scroll down, this isn’t the end of the blog post. Click the start button on the video to watch the magic of DNA coiling. The rest of my rambling continues after the video.)

See? Wasn’t that awesome?

In a nutshell (or nucleus in this case): DNA forms the inherited genetic material found inside our cells. Genes are the hereditary units that form our DNA. Our genes tell our cells how to function and what traits to express.

And guess what? We have some control over that. A good example is the genetic predisposition for celiac disease. Say you have the gene that codes for celiac disease (DQ2 or DQ8), but you live on some isolated island and you’re never exposed to gluten. That gene would not be expressed. It would stay turned off. On the other hand, if you eat a lot of gluten and the stars align, you’ll end up hitting the switch and turning the gene on. I have DQ2 genes and celiac disease, but I’ve been living gluten-free for so long now, I feel like my celiac gene is on dim mode. It’s not turned on, but it’s also not totally turned off either. Eating a big plate of gluten-filled pasta would be the equivalent of hitting the on switch and re-expressing the gene. I don’t want to do that.

On another note, I have this theory that I’ve tweaked a different genetic predisposition of mine in a healthy way and although that’s a good thing, there have been some unintended consequences. We have about 20,000 genes so there’s lots of potential for shenanigans.

Let me explain. That’s if you’re still here.

My mom says I was born running (much to her dismay). I grew up in the 50s and 60s and had they coined the term at that time, I probably would have been called ADD-ish. I rarely sat down long enough to eat a full meal, never took naps, was always fidgeting, ran up and down stairs, twirled, jumped off things, climbed over furniture and so on. If you ask my mom, she’ll say I was a royal pain in the neck.

Jump ahead to the year 2000. I’m hitting midlife, am still very active, but I’ve never really learned to relax. High blood pressure is common in my family and mine had been inching up over the years. Not bad, but it was making a move. I decided I had no desire to express (turn on) that high blood pressure gene that seems so prevalent on my dad’s side of the family. I decided to turn it off by practicing yoga and meditation. And guess what? A decade later, I don’t have high blood pressure, I’m calmer, I don’t fidget as much, and I no longer drive people crazy with my speed walking. Instead, I float around chanting in Sanskrit. No worries. Peace, love, and tie dyes.

One more time, but now jump ahead to 2011. I’m busy co-writing a book* with my friend and colleague Pete Bronski of No Gluten-No Problem, so I sit at my computer for long hours each day. I don’t change my eating habits (which are good for the most part), but my intense hiking, skiing, dog walking, etc. go by the wayside. I’m still committed to yoga, but to keep from being too stressed from my work, I practice a more restorative style. Yikes, I gain 5 or 6 pounds in short order. I’ve never done that before.

Here’s how it happened. I’m in midlife (okay, late midlife, late-late midlife) and I’m now practicing a more calming style of yoga. Both my age and my yoga have contributed to a reduction in my metabolism. That’s the point of yoga—relaxation, lower heart-rate, deeper breathing, lower blood pressure, less caloric need, and hence a lower metabolic rate.

Yikes! The perfect storm. I’m mellow, I don’t fidget, I’m older, I do restorative yoga, and I’m working long hours sitting at my computer. The result is weight gain, even though I’m eating well. And because of my age (which will remain untyped) and the fact that I’ve intentionally shifted my metabolism down a notch with all the yoga, it’s been harder to lose the weight. My muscle to fat ratio has changed. I don’t want these extra pounds to become my new set point, so what can I do?

First off, I can’t get all worked up about it as I have that high blood pressure gene just waiting for an excuse to turn on. I’m continuing with my meditative yoga, but I’m making sure I get a couple of power yoga classes in per week. I’ve added mountain biking into my schedule to boost my metabolism and burn some calories and I’ve added some round-about weight training. I’m not into going to the gym and lifting weights, but I’m aware that I need to build muscle, which is more metabolically active than fat. I do my yoga in the morning, my biking whenever I can, and I’m periodically doing some at-home strength training.

One last thing. I don’t think it’s a big deal to gain a few pounds. I have motivations other than being the “right” weight. I want to do some climbing this summer and I need to be in good shape for that. Extra weight makes climbing 14,000 foot peaks more difficult. Yoga inversions and arm balances are harder on my body if I weigh more. A few pounds makes a difference in the activities that are important to me. If you want to lose weight, you have to evaluate what your genetic predispositions might be, what you eat (quality and quantity), and what you do (sit, stand, run, what type of yoga, etc.) and adjust according to your age and lifestyle factors. Life is definitely an ever-evolving journey.

I promise a breakfast recipe for next week. A nutrient-dense, low calorie one.

Peace, love, and flexible genes!
Melissa

* When I wrote this blog post last March our book had not been released. The Gluten-Free Edge: A Nutrition and Training Guide for Peak Athletic Performance and an Active Gluten-Free Life is now available on Amazon.com and at various bookstores. Yeah!

Love is in the air (along with a zillion cold and flu cooties)

It’s Valentine’s Day and I’m guessing you were expecting dark chocolate, candy hearts, and frilly cupcakes—not shiitake mushrooms, leeks, and spinach. I’m compelled to skip the sugar-laden Valentine goodies this year and go the medicinal mushroom route instead. It seems half the people I know are sniffling, sneezing, and coughing and although it’s hard to avoid being exposed, nourishing food gives your body the ammunition it needs to stay healthy in the midst of cold and flu season.

You want to be able to share the LOVE, not the flu cooties, right? That takes a powerful immune system. Shiitake mushrooms will help you boost your endurance in that department. I’m lucky to have a local source in Hazel Dell’s fresh organic mushrooms.

Shiitake mushrooms have a long and colorful history as cold and flu fighters. They’re a symbol of longevity in Asian cultures and there’s research to back up the claim. What is interesting about these mushrooms is the unique way they work in contrast. Let thy food be thy medicine. These little gems stimulate the immune system in a magical way, enhancing the beneficial aspects of immunity while suppressing the negative aspects. Perfect for those of us with misdirected immunity (think celiac disease).

Having said all that, I’m not a fan of the texture of mushrooms, but love the taste. I don’t like slimy foods like mushrooms or oysters. I can watch open heart surgery up close and personal, but can’t tolerate a runny nose. Mushrooms are plant boogers and they give me the willies. So, in order to take advantage of the medicinal attributes and wonderful earthy flavor of shiitake mushrooms, I cook them up and blend them with broth and a small amount of organic tomato sauce to make the most divine soup base you can imagine. I use this base for all kinds of soups and stews. It’s a cooking/health trick worth adding to your arsenal of radiant living tips.

Immune boosting shiitake mushroom soup

What you need (see fresh ingredients above) 
1 cup shiitake mushrooms, washed and chopped
2 cups chicken broth
1 eight-ounce can organic tomato sauce
2 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 leek, sliced in rounds (into the green section)
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 celery stalks, about 1 cup chopped (leaves included)
2 carrots, about 1 cup chopped
1 tomato, chopped
4 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon Simply Organic All-Purpose Seasoning
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh spinach, chopped
1 cup cooked chicken (option)

* Note that the total amount of broth should be 8 cups. You can substitute vegetable broth to make this a vegetarian soup.

What you do
1. Place chopped mushrooms in a medium saucepan. Add 2 cups chicken broth. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat when finished cooking so it can cool slightly.
2. While mushrooms are cooking, heat the olive oil in a large soup pot on low-medium. Add leeks and garlic and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring often.
3. Add 4 cups broth to large soup pot with the leeks and garlic mixture. Add celery, carrots, chopped tomato, chicken if using, and seasonings. Turn heat to low.
4. In the meantime, pour mushroom and chicken broth mixture into a blender. Be careful—hot liquids can blow the top off your blender. Let the mixture cool before blending. Add the tomato sauce and 2 cups of room-temperature chicken broth to the blender. Blend all ingredients until smooth. Pour into stock pot.
5. Simmer soup over low heat until vegetables are cooked, but still crisp (about 1 to 2 hours).
6. Add a handful of fresh, raw spinach to the bottom of a large soup mug or bowl. Ladle soup over spinach and give it a stir. The heat of the soup will wilt the spinach to perfection without overcooking it.

Options: add cooked brown rice, quinoa, or Tinkyada brown rice noodles.

For sweet treats to go with your immune boosting soup, check out these recipes.

Double chocolate, double walnut, double heart cookies from Gluten Free Easily
Mexican chocolate brownies from The Book of Yum
Chocolate souffle from Celiacs in the House
How to choose gluten-free chocolate for baking (part 1) from No Gluten No Problem
Pecan and chocolate pie from The WHOLE Gang
Chocolate fondue from Cook It Allergy Free
No bake cookies and creme cheesecakes from Simply Gluten-Free

Peace, joy, and immune-boosting love!
Melissa

Wheat Belly

Well, what do you think? Will this glob of dough migrate straight to your belly?

I haven’t eaten wheat in years, so I’m not worried about a “wheat” belly, but I understand my own physiology well enough to know that overloading on high-carb, baked goods (gluten-free or not) will make for wild blood sugar loop-de-loops, not to mention extra pounds.

Have you heard of the new book, Wheat Belly, by gluten-free medical doctor, William Davis? If you haven’t, you will soon. It made its way up to #5 on the New York Time’s best seller list (hardcover advice and miscellaneous category) and is generating lots of controversial chatter along the way.

I’m not sure why, but Dr. Davis’s publicist sent me a copy of the book (thanks, Olivia). I hadn’t heard of it, and to be honest, I rolled my eyes when I saw the title. I figured it was just another weight loss book, in what has become a bazillion dollar industry—this time using “gluten-free” as the hook.

After my eye-rolling subsided long enough to focus on the fact that the book was written by a preventive cardiologist, I was intrigued. Preventive being the key word when it comes to heart health. I like exercise science, which tends to revolve around cardiac function in one way or another. My thesis paper for my degree (way back when) was a long-winded question about whether exercise training promotes coronary collateralization in people with heart disease. And, if so, do these vessels enhance myocardial perfusion? I went on to do an internship in cardiac rehab, help start an out-patient program, and neurotically fuss about whether my cholesterol and/or my HDLs were too high. Yes, freakishly high HDLs, which are half my cholesterol and my cholesterol isn’t low.

So—Wheat Belly was written by a preventive cardiologist who advocates no gluten, less drug use, balancing blood sugar, and is focused on real food?

I’m in.

I read the book and spent an hour last weekend interviewing Dr. Davis for this blog post.

He’s delightful, has a good sense of humor, and is on a mission to find better solutions to the deluge of health problems we face in this country. He wants to help people. Many docs practice flow-chart medicine.

Oh, you have this symptom? Then you need this drug.

I didn’t get that feeling from Dr. Davis, and that’s unusual in cardiology. He won’t immediately hand you a prescription for a statin drug, but he might offer you a recipe for low-carb, grain-free pumpkin spice muffins. My Paleo friends will love him.

While I don’t agree with everything in the book and I find his food philosophy a bit animal-product-heavy for me, his “eat real food” approach to health makes perfect sense. He does use artificial/non-nutritive sweeteners (which I avoid), but he admits that’s a compromise. I understand his reasoning, as I do my own version of compromising when it comes to a few select, gluten-free products that I recommend to clients and that I occasionally use myself.

I also know, from a health standpoint, that trading gluten-containing products for gluten-free products isn’t the answer. Dr. Davis is on that bandwagon as well.

Excuse me while I step onto my soapbox for a moment.

I repeat. Switching from one overly-processed “food” to another is not the answer, and much of the time, the new gluten-free version has no more nutritional value than ground styrofoam.

Gluten-free baking often relies on refined starches and sugar to recreate a wheat-like texture and to improve taste. This has been a major frustration of mine for years. Many of the support organizations focus on replacing wheat with gluten-free products, rather than encouraging people to eat nourishing food that happens to be gluten-free. A major topic of discussion right now in the celiac community is the Gluten Free Labeling Law currently under consideration by the FDA. While I support a uniform labeling standard and understand the pros and cons of various ppm limits, if you eat real food, you don’t have to worry about labels, ppms, or government standards.

Stepping down from my soapbox now. Nah, I’ll keep one foot on and one foot off.

As a nutritionist, one of the things I think is most important in improving health is to eat organic, whole foods (lots of vegetables) and to balance blood sugar. That’s also the premise of my version of a gluten-free diet and what Dr. Davis is advocating. The overriding theme in Wheat Belly is to resolve metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes by reducing carbohydrates (especially wheat and refined starches), and in the process, most people lose weight. But, you can’t trade gluten-containing processed carbs for gluten-free processed carbs.

The basic premise makes sense. Unless you’re running a marathon, but that’s another story.

While I don’t agree with everything in Wheat Belly, I do get the idea that Dr. Davis’ motto, especially when it comes to heart health, is to “prevent” problems before they sabotage your health. I’m into that, too.

For more information, please check the following links.

Wheat Belly Blog
Track Your Plaque Blog (I love this—meditation, prayer, and deep breathing as strategies to enhance heart health. Go, Dr. Davis, go!)

Peace, love and real food.
Melissa

Disclaimer: All material on this website is provided for informational and educational use only and should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Consult with your physician regarding any health or medical concerns you may have.
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(co-written with Pete Bronski)



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