November 28th, 2012 by Melissa
I had a post on anemia in the works, complete with details on the structure, function, and production of red blood cells, but I got sidetracked by coffee cake. Iron-poor blood will have to wait. This cake is that good. Plus, it fits in with a study I read this morning.
It’s the holidays and this time of year often triggers an uptick in anxiety-related behavior. Cake is comfort food. Did you go to Target or Best Buy on Black Friday? Did your Thanksgiving dinner look more like a Woody Allen movie than a Norman Rockwell painting? Are you stressed about work, money, politics, the weather?
Here, have a piece of cake.
And guess what? A bunch of researchers (17 scientists) put together a collective study and concluded that, “…the hedonic and rewarding properties of palatable foods have stress-buffering actions across numerous effector pathways (neuroendocrine, behavioral, and the sympathetic nervous system).”
Apparently our HPA (Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenocortical) axis and the sympathetic branch of our autonomic nervous system lights up (neuro-nirvana) with the intake of “hedonic” food (i.e. cake). We’re being rewarded for eating fat and sugar. The study states that, “Indeed, comfort food intake in humans is linked with improved emotional states….”
Really? It took 17 scientists to confirm that we want cake, cookies, and ice cream when we’re stressed?
Since I’m in the Christmas spirit and this coffee cake is so divine, I won’t belabor the unintended consequences of overeating hedonic (sorry, that word is just too much fun) food for stress relief.
Yes, we know that binging on sweets is not a good idea. But who reaches for bok choy or burdock root when they’re stressed? And, yes, we know that eating high fat, high carb food can lead to diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and blah-blah-blah.
Let’s put all that aside for now, take this one bite at a time, and enjoy the holidays responsibly. I’m for baking an occasional treat, sharing it with friends and family, and not over-indulging. I created this coffee cake recipe for a holiday brunch I’m having on Christmas day. When I perfected the recipe on my third try, I gave half of it to my neighbors (reluctantly). When I make it next time, I’ll have lots of people to share it with. I’m taking protective measures, but I still plan to enjoy a little hedonic buzz now and then.
Gluten-free pumpkin pie coffee cake
What you need
2 – 1/2 cups Pamela’s Baking and Pancake Mix
1 cup pumpkin pie mix (I used Farmer’s Market Organic Pumpkin Pie Mix)
1/2 cup light coconut milk (I used Native Forest Organic Light Coconut Milk)
2 large eggs (these were my CSA pastured eggs from Grant Farms)
1/4 cup organic turbinado sugar *
1/4 cup organic butter, melted
1 – 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (I used Savory Spice Shop’s salt-free pumpkin pie spice)
1 teaspoon vanilla (I used Madagascar vanilla)
1/2 cup Pamela’s Baking and Pancake Mix
1/2 cup turbinado sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup butter, chilled
What you do
1. Preheat oven to 350°. Butter a 9 x 9 inch square baking pan (I used a dark 9 x 9 inch square baking pan).
2. Place Pamela’s mix and the pumpkin pie spice in a medium bowl. Whisk to blend the two dry ingredients.
3. Beat butter and sugar together on medium speed, about 30 seconds, until creamy. Add eggs, vanilla, coconut milk, and pumpkin pie mix and continue mixing on low, about 30 seconds to 1 minute.
4. Add dry ingredients to wet and mix on low until well blended.
5. Spoon into baking pan and spread evenly. You may need to use a wet knife to spread the batter.
6. To prepare the streusel topping: Place Pamela’s mix, turbinado sugar, and chopped pecans in a medium bowl. Stir to mix. Cut in chilled butter (I use a cheese grater) and mix well. Sprinkle over batter.
7. Place coffee cake on center rack of oven and bake for 45 minutes. Check after 20 to 30 minutes and cover loosely with foil if the streusel starts over-browning (it will, so watch it). You want it nicely browned, not burned.
8. Cool slightly and serve. You can make this a day ahead if you’d like. It’s almost better the next day.
* Organic Turbinado sugar, also called raw cane sugar, is made by the first crushing of freshly-cut sugar cane. It’s still sugar, but less refined and grown organically. The crystals are larger and crunchier and have a molasses flavor to them. Molasses is a byproduct of the process and retained in Turbinado sugar. It’s perfect for streusel topping.
Peace, love, and hedonic food (in small doses on special occasions).
November 14th, 2012 by Melissa
You know how bloggers have those long titles that indicate everything that’s missing from a recipe?
“Gluten-free, grain-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, soy-free, corn-free, nut-free, nightshade-free, pesticide-free, GMO-free gingersnaps.”
I’m not criticizing, as I’ve been guilty of my own version of this, I’m just pointing out how “free-from” obsessed we’ve become.
Or, maybe I’m just preparing you for — cue scary music — sugar-full, egg-full, dairy-megeddon cheesecake.
But first, this is my mom, back in her “salad days.” She had unusual and clever terms for everything from being young and beautiful (salad days) to dying (stepping off). She was funny, brilliant, beautiful, and feisty—right up to the moment she stepped off, which she did in typical fashion (full of grace and humor) last month. Margaret was 96-plus years old when she died. Hers was definitely a life well-lived.
I grew up eating whole foods. My mom was an amazing cook. She never relied on processed food, TV dinners, or store-bought cookies. Ever. She made everything from scratch and didn’t shy away from butter, bacon fat, eggs, cream, or sugar. We also ate fresh beets, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, beans, quinoa (where she found quinoa all those years ago, I have no idea), wild and brown rice, and a host of other fresh vegetables and whole grains. We didn’t eat much meat because she was frugal, but the meat she did buy was the good stuff and she made it last by using a small amount to make a big meal. Ham and lima bean soup that lasted for days. Beef stew with a ton of vegetables. Brown rice, vegetable, and chicken soup. She made bread and biscuits from scratch and delighted in serving over-the-top desserts when we had guests. Margaret was famous for her creme brulée, cheesecake, chocolate peanut butter cake, brownies, and lemon meringue pie, but she refused to share recipes. Absolutely refused.
When my mom stepped off, the first thing I put “dibs” on was her recipe box, which I found tucked away in the back corner of a rarely-used cabinet. Along with her recipes were several vintage cookbooks and old kitchen utensils. I sat on her kitchen floor for at least an hour, thumbing through recipes, flipping through cookbooks, playing with utensils. Tears running down my face.
I have a sign in my kitchen: Love people. Cook them good food.
I’m blessed to have been taught that. Thank you, mom.
And now (drum roll, please) I’m sharing Margaret’s cheesecake recipe, of which, we served at her “stepping off party.” Please bake it with joy and share it with love. This cheesecake is a Thanksgiving tradition at our house, but this year I’ll be making it instead of my mom. Sniff, sniff. But life goes on, so let’s be thankful for family, friends, and cheesecake.
Margaret’s Cheesecake (gluten-free, but full of dairy, fat, and sugar)
What you need
2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup, plus 3 tablespoons sugar
3 extra large eggs
1 & 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 carton (8 ounces) sour cream
What you do
Beat together until smooth — cream cheese, 2/3 cup of the sugar, eggs, and 1/2 teaspoon of the vanilla. pour the mixture into a buttered 9 & 1/2 inch glass pie plate. (This Pyrex pie plate works the best. It’s a touch bigger than traditional pie plates.) Bake in preheated, 350° oven for 25 to 35 minutes, or until puffy and lightly brown around the edges. When done, it should spring back when lightly touched in the center. Cool cheesecake at room temperature (will sink slightly). Whisk together sour cream, remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar, and remaining 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Spread over cheesecake 1/2 inch from edges. Continue to bake at 350° for an additional 15 to 20 minutes. Cool and refrigerate. Top with fresh fruit or fruit compote if desired (optional, it’s just as good plain).
Several people from the assisted living home where my mom lived came to her “celebration” service. An elderly man came up to me after the service, took both my hands in his, looked me straight in the eye and said, “Your mother really liked me. She brought me the best homemade cookies and brownies.”
I love the fact that this elderly, hunched over, little gentleman said, “Your mother really liked me.” What a gift to give someone. Good food and a warm heart.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone. I’m grateful for all of you.
Now, go, cook good food for those you love and be thankful for the fact that you can.
Peace, love, and cheesecake.
PS If you’re worried about the fat and sugar content in this cheesecake, keep in mind that my mom lived to be 96-plus years old and she often ate cheesecake for breakfast. Nourishment is about more than just food.
November 5th, 2012 by Melissa
Gil Hedley calls himself a somanaut. Like an astronaut who navigates outer space, a somanaut is dedicated to exploring the inner space that makes us the magical human beings that we are. I’ve taken workshops from Gil in the past and he’s an off-beat, charming, and brilliant anatomist. Check out “fuzz, food, inflammation, and movement” for a blog post I did on Gil, inflammation, and inner space several years ago. That post includes his famous Fuzz Video, which is definitely worth watching.
My last two posts were on bacterial inner space (see links below) and this post tops off the series with a test to see how good your interoceptive skills are. In other words, how well you know your inner space.
Grab yourself a stopwatch and a calculator (unless you’re a math wizard and can do this in your head). Sit quietly in a comfortable chair with your hands resting in your lap or on your thighs. Don’t cross your legs. Take a few deep breaths and relax. Start the stopwatch and count your heartbeats by feeling your heart’s rhythm for one minute. Don’t touch your neck (carotid artery), your wrist (radial artery), or your heart—just sense when your heart beats and keep track of the number. Write the number down.
Now, using your fingers (preferably your index and middle finger), find your pulse on the inside of your wrist. Don’t use your thumb, as it has its own pulse. You can also find your pulse on either side of your neck. Use whichever one works best for you and count the beats for one minute in the normal way (using your fingers). Wait a couple of minutes and do it again for one minute using your fingers. Average the two measurements in which you used your fingers to monitor your pulse.
Calculate the difference between your heartbeat estimate and the average of your two pulse counts using your fingers. Take the absolute value of the difference—you don’t need to know whether you overshot or undercounted, just the amount by which you missed the mark. Then divide by your average pulse and subtract that result from 1. Here’s the formula.
Interpreting your score:
If your result was 0.80 or higher, your interoceptive abilities are awesome. A score of 0.60 to 0.79 means you have a moderately good sense of your inner space. A result below 0.59 indicates that you need to work on getting to know yourself a little better.
I say this often, but the more you understand what’s going on inside, the more likely you are to take good care of your inner space. Your body is a temple, go inside and check it out. It’s magical.
You might also like:
How much of you is really you
Talking bacteria and disease fighting veggies
Peace, love, and inner space.
• Use of the above You Are Here letterpress print by Roll & Tumble Press courtesy of Street Anatomy (Anatomy & Pop Culture Gallery Store). Print available here.
• Interoceptive testing formula found in Scientific American MIND, May/June 2012.
October 15th, 2012 by Melissa
Even though I have a blog category called Super Foods, I don’t believe the astonishing claims of “super food” products (powders, pulps, supplements, etc.). The açaí trend is an example. There’s no science behind the claim that açaí powder can reverse diabetes, defeat cancer, help you lose weight, or increase boy-part prowess in older men. Those over-the-top claims have all been made, but there’s no evidence to back them up.
Geez, like life isn’t tricky enough. Now we have to vet our food for false health claims. If it’s not açaí, it’s Tahitian noni juice, or Himalayan goji berries. Each one of these plants have “medicinal” health benefits, but they aren’t going to cure Alzheimer’s or stop the aging process. There are no magic potions. No silver bullets.
Having said that, I’m a big believer in plant power to help resolve biological imbalances, rejuvenate our inner space, and boost overall health. Processed food, environmental toxins, stress, and poor lifestyle choices increase the risk of disease. The more we understand what’s going on inside (up close and personal, on a cellular level) and the more we focus on the foods that promote vitality and mental clarity, the better we feel. The more radiant we become. Who doesn’t want that?
Did you read my last post? How much of you is really you? If not, check it out as that post, this one, and my next one will all be connected. Last week’s was about bacteria and the importance of keeping our inner bacterial garden healthy and balanced. This post will touch on foods that inhibit disease-causing bacteria and help the “knights in shining armor” keep the cooties in check.
Okay, ready? Put on your geek hat.
Quorum sensing is cell-to-cell texting between bacteria. It’s their version of using a “cell” phone (pun intended) to communicate. But rather than an expensive iPhone, they use chemical signaling molecules to pass information around and gather the troops to do good things or to wreak havoc. Bacteria have an amazing ability to engineer their environment and to impact human health. They’re innately smart, very communicative, and quite creative, so it’s important to have the good guys calling the shots. According to a study in the June 2009 issue of PLoS One, a peer reviewed science journal, the human gut is home to about 9 million unique bacterial genes and once we lose control of proper balance, the s**t hits the fan, so to speak.
Probably the most famous example of quorum sensing is the bioluminescence of fireflies. Did you play with fireflies when you were little? I did, although I had no idea how they turned their little tail lights off and on. Fireflies individually regulate their light, but they receive feedback from the other light flashes around them. Peer pressure encourages them to flash in unison. Photinus pyralis is the firefly bacteria that produces light via chemical signaling (quorum sensing). How cool is that? They definitely glow from the inside out and they do it as a community.
That’s quorum sensing and it’s also how super bugs join forces and discuss how to outsmart antibiotics. It’s how your inner garden becomes overrun by weeds. We don’t want that.
Smart plant guys and gals have discovered that vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, horseradish, garlic, and cabbage (among others) inhibit the growth of disease-causing bacteria. Pseudomonas aeruginosa, to be exact. MRSA (nasty staph germ) and pseudomonas aeruginosa are smart little critters. They’re becoming antibiotic resistant, which is not good.
Here’s the deal, though. If we eat right, avoid the over-use of antibiotics, and focus on health-promoting plant foods, we’ll at least be tending our internal garden in a positive way. We’re setting ourselves up to have an army of good bacteria working (quorum sensing) on our behalf. Go, good bacteria, go!
So, skip the expensive and exotic “super food” powders, supplements, and elixirs and go eat some broccoli. Plants can be potent therapeutic agents, but you don’t have to go to some far-off rain forest or spend a fortune to boost your internal fire power. Ride your bike down to the local farmer’s market and get yourself some green quorum sensing inhibitors.
Peace, love, and plant power.
PS Stay tuned for a simple test to see how well you know yourself.
October 11th, 2012 by Melissa
And how well do you know the you that’s not really you? Or even the you that is you?
For the most part, we’re a highly developed species, but our interoceptive skills aren’t all that great. We’re fairly clueless when it comes to our own bodies.
First things first – the basics.
All living things are made up of cells. Some things, like bacteria, are made up of only one cell. Humans are made up of bazillions of cells and almost every one of those cells contains a complete recipe for making you the unique and quirky person you are. That cellular recipe card is encoded in your DNA, which is that long twisty, twirly, ladder-like molecule you learned about in high school biology. The ingredients for your DNA recipe are organized into 23 pairs of chromosomes, which are organized into genes. We each have about 20,000 genes. I have the gene that codes for green eyes and the one that codes for slightly wavy hair. I also have two genes that code for an increased risk for celiac disease and one that makes me a super taster. You may have the gene that codes for sparkling blue eyes and one that’s the marker for straight hair. Or, you may have hit the jackpot with ACTN3, the “I can run really fast” gene.
That’s us in a genetic nutshell.
Now, on to those one-celled, one-piece-of-DNA bacteria. Bacteria consume stuff (nutrients) from the environment and in some cases, that environmental banquet is us. We have WAY more bacterial cells in our bodies than our own cells – something like 10 times more bacteria cells. Simply put, we have (give or take a few) 100,000 bacteria cells (and genes) in and on us at all times.
Take that one step further and we can conclude that 90% of our cells are from bacteria. Yikes! There’s not much of me that’s really me. I’m just a green-eyed, over-grown petri-dish wearing a cute outfit.
So, we’re just one big tour bus for bacteria. We have some nice passengers and some not-so-nice passengers and it’s important for over-all health to keep this ratio in optimal balance. Our unique buggy environment is called a microbiome and includes all the microbes (and their genetic elements) that have become a part of our internal and external environment. These bacterial genes can profoundly impact the progression of disease – in good ways (protecting us from pathogens), or bad ways (causing infection, inflammation, and disease).
What do good bacteria do?
• Produce enzymes that help us digest, absorb, and assimilate food
• Synthesize vitamin K and other vitamins we can’t make on our own
• Break down carcinogens
• May help metabolize drugs
• Rev up the rate in which intestinal cells regenerate
• Boost immune function and metabolism
• Infants get protective bacteria during birth that help “educate” their immune systems
• Antibiotic use can kill off good bacteria, opening the door to disease
A healthy gut microbiome is akin to a functioning organ, carrying out all kinds of important immune system activities. People with digestive diseases and autoimmune conditions (i.e., celiac, colitis, Crohn’s, IBS, food allergies, environmental sensitivities, etc.) often have funky microbiomes, which can impact energy levels, overall vibrance, immune function, and aging. Researchers are even linking obesity and diabetes to bacterial imbalances.
Scientists at the National Institutes of Health are sequencing the genomes of almost every strain of bacteria we have and are connecting them to the organs they inhabit (nasal-oral-lungs, skin, gastrointestinal, urogenital). This new approach to wellness is called medical ecology. Think of your microbiome as a soil system. Without the proper balance of nutrients and microbes in the soil, your garden won’t grow. The more good bacteria we have, the harder it is for bad cooties to take hold and cause problems.
How do we tend the microbial garden?
• Don’t use broad spectrum antibiotics unless absolutely necessary
• Choose organic produce and hormone/antibiotic-free animal products
• Eat fermented foods (yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, etc.)
• Reduce stress, which can impact intestinal health
• Prebiotics (fibers in whole foods) stimulate the growth of good bacteria
• Avoid processed food, junk food, and sugary drinks
• Talk to your health-care practitioner about taking a probiotic supplement
• Eat cruciferous veggies *
* Next up: quorum sensing, broccoli, horseradish, and a test to measure your interoceptive skills. (I know, I apologize. I just can’t help it.)
I promise you a gluten-free donut if you stick with me. =)
Peace, love, and good bacteria.
Photo credit: WikiMedia Commons
September 24th, 2012 by Melissa
I’m sure you’ve all heard the famous Hippocrates quote, Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. He uttered those words in 400-something BC. Back in the day when food was actually—surprise—real food. That meant lots of plants and an occasional animal snack, but certainly not double-deep-fried, nacho-flavored, cheese-like chips; high-fat “Sunday” bacon; or 2-pound cinnamon rolls. When Hippocrates was talking about food as medicine, he was talking about plants. Whole foods.
See those scrawny little scallions in the above photo? Nothing all that special. They’re just onions, right? Well, those onions pack a powerful punch when it comes to health-promoting goodness.
I’ve been doing some research on foods that fight cancer, sometimes referred to as chemopreventive (or chemoprotective) foods and ran across an interesting, recently released (last week) study.
But first, a little background. The term chemopreventive was coined in the late 1970s and refers to the phytochemicals (plant chemicals) in natural products (fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices) that reduce the risk of disease. I mentioned Hippocrates because I figured most of you have probably heard the food as medicine quote. Here’s another similar, although more wordy, quote from a March 2010 Pharmaceutical Research Journal abstract on cancer chemoprevention.
Moreover, it has been recognized that single agents may not always be sufficient to provide chemopreventive efficacy, and, therefore, the new concept of combination chemoprevention by multiple agents or by the consumption of “whole foods” has become an increasingly attractive area of study.
Hmmm? Wow, the “new” concept of consuming whole foods as medicine? An “increasingly attractive area of study.” Very interesting (I say with a touch of sarcasm). Wasn’t Hippocrates the father of modern medicine? Back in 400-something BC?
Okay, so we’ve gone astray on many fronts when it comes to health and what we eat. I’ll save that rant for another day and get on with the exciting news about scallions, one of my favorite foods.
There’s an increased risk of intestinal cancers associated with celiac disease. The risk is small and if you’re on a seriously committed and healthy gluten-free diet (think whole foods), the increased risk is minimal. I’m not losing any sleep over it. But colon cancer is one of the most common forms of cancers in the general population, so it’s nothing to sneeze at.
What do scallions have to do with intestinal diseases and colon cancer? Well, according to a new study, scallion extract (scallions soaked in hot or cold water) suppressed key inflammatory markers and reduced the size of cancer tumors. Yes, in rats, but in some ways, we’re not all that different.
In summary, directly from the study: “We therefore suggest that scallion plant materials and their extracts may have the potential to be systematically developed as a chemopreventive agent(s) or medicinal food against specific colon cancers.”
Psst—you don’t have to wait until they’re “systematically developed.”
I say, load up on fresh, organic scallions right now. Chop them and add them to soups, stews, chili, whatever you can think of. Both the hot and cold extracts provided protection, but the hot (cooked) version topped the list. Sauté them and add them to raw salads. I do that all the time and they taste spectacular! Roast them in a medley of vegetables. Slice them length-wise and put them on pizza (check out this recipe: my new favorite pizza topping to see what I mean).
Here’s the good news about this study. It didn’t take much, just one scallion a day to provide the extra boost in protection. If that’s not enough, scallions impair genes that store fat. Yes! Okay, in obese rats, but still. Good news, don’t you think? Onions also help lower blood pressure and are anti-inflammatory.
What’s not to like about the scallion?!
Go, buy some now! Let food be thy medicine!
PS Stay tuned for a roasted scallion pesto recipe. Oh my gosh! Delicious.
* P Arulselvan et al., “Dietary Administration of Scallion Extract Effectively Inhibits Colorectal Tumor Growth: Cellular and Molecular Mechanisms in Mice,” PLoS ONE 7(9), e44658. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0044658, September 14, 2012.
September 11th, 2012 by Melissa
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.
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!
September 1st, 2012 by Melissa
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).
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.
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.)
Photo of Venus courtesy of PhotoBucket
August 17th, 2012 by Melissa
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!
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!
July 25th, 2012 by Melissa
Gluten-Free Tomato and Arugula Pizza
I have a half-written blog post on weight loss, carbohydrate and fat metabolism, and mitochondrial dysfunction, but it’s taking me some time to sort through the material and make it marginally readable. I want to share my findings with you, but it’s a tough subject to make entertaining. I’ve discovered some interesting variables in my attempt to get back in shape and lose the weight I gained while co-writing (with endurance athlete Pete Bronski, founder of No Gluten No Problem) a book on gluten-free sports nutrition and training.
Yes, I do see the irony.
Anyway, I know you’re dying to hear all about metabolic flexibility and why boosting the density of your mitochondria will help you burn calories more efficiently, but you’ll have to wait until next week. This whole weight loss thing is not easy, at least not if you plan to keep it off FOREVER. That’s the point, right?
But for now, although not exactly “diet” food, let’s talk about gluten-free pizza. Yes, I know — I have an excessive number of pizza-centered posts here on my blog. Pizza is my comfort food and I’m not afraid of carbs (decent carbs), so I usually make some version of vegetarian pizza at least once a week. This was the “Friday night special” last week. I served it with a nice, semi-chilled glass of red wine. There’s no reason a couple of slices of this pizza can’t be part of a healthy eating plan, especially if you top it with low calorie, nutrient-rich vegetables.
As some of you know, I have a CSA share through Grant Family Farms. It includes organic veggies, fruit, pastured eggs, and micro-greens. I’m loving the micro-greens and have been experimenting with everything from mustard micro-green pesto to komatsuna salads. This recipe is for fresh arugula topped pizza.
Gluten-free tomato and arugula micro-green pizza
what you need
1 package (2 crusts) Udi’s gluten-free pizza crusts (or, your favorite version)
1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely minced (more if you like garlic)
tomatoes, thinly sliced, juice and seeds removed *
sprinkling of cheese
fresh arugula micro greens, about 2 cups washed and dried
what you do
1. Brush the pizza crust with a small amount of olive oil. Don’t use too much, but cover the crust with a thin brushing of oil.
2. Sprinkle with minced garlic and top with sliced tomatoes. I like to use a lot of tomatoes and cover the whole pizza with a single layer.
3. Top with shredded cheese. I used a small amount of freshly grated Parmesan cheese on this pizza, but any cheese is fine.
4. Bake according to pizza crust directions. I’ve been baking the pizza on the outside grill because it’s been too hot to turn the oven on. The crust comes out nice and crunchy.
5. Once the pizza is cooked, top with fresh arugula.
* I slice the tomatoes and spin them in my salad spinner to de-juice them. Then I save the juice to add to homemade salad dressings.
Peace, love, and gluten-free pizza!
P.S. Stay tuned for mitochondrial density, movement, and weight loss.
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should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Consult with your physician regarding any health or medical concerns you may have.