By Maribeth Evezich, MS, RD
If you’re not monitoring your intake, sugar could be sabotaging your health and weight. Because when it comes to sugar, ignorance is not bliss. Here’s why.
Not long ago, added sugars were only a concern due to being “empty calories” promoting obesity and dental cavities. While considered an “unhealthy indulgence,” sugar’s only known risks were to our teeth and waistline and perhaps inadequate nutrition. But then the research started piling up.
Today we know better. Over-consumption of added sugar is recognized as an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease as well as many other chronic diseases, including diabetes mellitus, liver cirrhosis, and dementia—and is linked to dyslipidemia, hypertension, and insulin resistance.1 So the concern related to added sugar over-consumption has broadened to our whole body with potential health issues from head to toe, literally. In fact, according to UCSF School of Medicine professor Dr. Laura A. Schmidt’s invited commentary in JAMA Internal Medicine, “Too much sugar does not just make us fat; it can also make us sick.”1 Further, excess sugars are associated with premature aging as their by-products build up in connective tissue, promoting stiffness and loss of elasticity.2,3 Think wrinkles.
How much is too much? Not surprisingly, major health institutions, such as the Institute of Medicine, World Health Organization (WHO), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting added sugars. Further, the American Heart Association (AHA) has set specific daily limits (see graphic).4 However, while the WHO echoes these guidelines, it encourages further limitation to 5% of daily calories for additional health benefits.
That’s 6 teaspoons, 100 calories, 25 grams for a 2,000 calories diet.5
How are we doing? Not well! According to the USDA Dietary Guidelines, on average we’re eating almost 270 calories, or more than 13 percent of calories per day, in added sugars. That’s about 17 teaspoons (approximately 1/3 cup) of added sugars per day, about double the AHA guideline.6
Concerned about your weight? Do the math. That’s 11 teaspoons over the WHO’s more conservative recommendation. So, by simply reducing your added sugars to the lower WHO recommendation, you could be 20 pounds lighter a year from now.
Where is all this added sugar coming from?Most added sugar comes from processed and prepared foods. Beverages (soft drinks, fruit drinks, sweetened coffee and tea, energy drinks, alcoholic beverages, and flavored waters) are the biggest culprit. For example, with as many as 11 teaspoons (46.2 grams) of added sugar in one 12-oz. soda, a single serving is close to double the recommended limit for women and children. The other major “sugar bombs” are snacks and sweets (grain-based desserts, dairy desserts, puddings, candies, sugars, jams, syrups, and sweet toppings).7
Further, sugar is pervasive in our food supply. You’ll find it lurking in some not-so-obvious places, including savory foods, such as bread and pasta sauce, fruit juices, and bottle sauces, dressings, and condiments, such as ketchup. In fact, you’ll find added sugar in 74% of packaged foods sold in supermarkets, including those marketed as “healthy,” “natural,” “low-fat,” or “gluten-free.”7 They’re everywhere. The only way to keep them at a minimum is to eat whole, minimally processed foods.
In the next post in this series, we’ll look at why sugar cravings are so tough to conquer and help you identify hidden sugars in your diet.
You eat when you’re hungry. When you’re full, you put down your fork.
It sounds simple, right? Not always.
Some of us succumb to cravings even when we’re satiated. In fact, chances are that most of us have experienced cravings at one time or another. A recent study indicated 97% of women and 68% of men report feeling cravings at one time or another.1
But what are cravings? Why do we crave certain foods more than others? And, from a physiological standpoint, how does satiety work? This post will go over the details.
What is satiety?
Satiety is what we experience after eating a meal or snack. Normal satiety involves not only feeling full after sufficient intake, but also experiencing the need to limit consumption until the next time we get hungry.2
The brain is closely linked to satiety. The central nervous system—and more specifically, the hypothalamus—is responsible for letting us know when we’re ready to stop eating.2
Here are some of the factors that can affect the way we regulate our food intake:2
There are other factors that might occur as well.2 For instance, our physical activity levels and the pleasure we experience from eating can also affect satiety.3
And while most people stop eating when they’re satiated, others may continue to indulge long after the body signals it’s full.2 This is where food cravings come in.
What causes cravings?
Just as the brain affects satiety, it also plays an important role in food cravings.3,4
Cravings are the products of signals from the brain regions responsible for pleasure, memory, and rewards. These regions include the hippocampus, insula, and caudate. In many cases, the brain regions responsible for memory—those that associate specific foods with pleasure—are especially active when we crave fatty, sugary, or salty foods.4,5
There are a number of other factors that have also been linked to cravings:
Before we move on, it’s worth noting that cravings can be either selective or nonselective in nature. Selective cravings are for specific foods, like a greasy burger or a slice of rich chocolate cake.4
These types of cravings could also be specific for sugar, salt, or fat.4 If you find yourself lingering in the candy aisle, reaching for that pint of ice cream you keep in the freezer, and pouring yourself cup after cup of your favorite sweetened coffee drink, you likely have a selective craving for sugar.
Non-selective cravings, conversely, don’t target specific foods. Instead, they represent a desire to eat or drink anything—and they could be the result of real hunger or thirst. If you notice these types of cravings, drink plenty of water and make sure you’re getting enough to eat. By doing so, you may be able to address these non-selective cravings relatively quickly.4,5
What are some strategies for overcoming cravings?While there’s no harm in succumbing to the occasional craving, we should all strive to adopt a nutritious diet. We’ll be healthier and happier, and the brain and body will thank us for eating nutrient-dense foods.1,3-5
With that, here are some tips for overcoming unhealthy food cravings:
So socialize with a friend. Take a hike in nature. Sit down with a good book. Do what you can to relax and find joy in your life and not on your plate.
We can replace our cravings with healthier alternatives.4 For example, instead of reaching for a sugar-laden, fruit-flavored carton of yogurt, opt for the plain alternative and sweeten it yourself—in moderation—with fresh fruit, all-natural honey, or pure maple syrup.
So try not to let yourself get too hungry—and focus on nutritious foods. Eating more protein, healthful fats, colorful produce, and whole grains throughout the day will keep your hunger in check without triggering a potential craving.3-5
While these strategies can help us manage our cravings, they aren’t our only options. Again, it’s essential to drink enough water throughout the day.4 And we can always step away from the fridge the next time a craving hits, and engage in a non-food-related, pleasure-inducing activity instead. We might stretch our muscles, spend time with family, or listen to music. Contacting your healthcare practitioner to discuss cravings and changes to diet may also be a good idea.
For more information on nutrition and general wellness topics, please visit the Metagenics blog.
Inflammation plays a key role in the immune system.1 This physiological process, the inflammatory response, is the body’s way of protecting itself from infection due to bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other foreign substances.2 Inflammation plays a key role in the body’s natural healing process.1,2
While inflammation is natural—it is necessary in many cases—not all inflammatory responses are created equal.2 Sometimes the body might be inflamed when there are no foreign invaders the immune system needs to fight.2
Far too often, refined sugar is partly responsible.1 So if you have a serious sweet tooth and experience symptoms like redness, joint or muscle stiffness, fatigue, and loss of appetite, you may have fallen victim to the sugar-inflammation connection.1
How does added sugar cause inflammation?
Consistently eating high quantities of refined sugar can cause chronic, low-grade inflammation.1 This may lead to serious health issues like cardiovascular challenges, weight gain, or allergies.1,2
Specifically, added sugar promotes the following changes in the body:
While the government recommends that added sugar and solid fats combined account for no more than 5% to 15% of one’s total caloric intake, 13% of US adults’ total calories come from processed sugar.4 All of the above symptoms are linked to chronic, low-grade inflammation. That said, it’s worth noting that added sugar consumption alone is unlikely to cause severe inflammation; often, there are a number of factors at play.1
How can you support a healthier inflammation response?Lifestyle changes can address some of the symptoms mentioned above.1 Examples include: eliminating junk food from your diet, reducing your general stress levels, and so much more.1
Regardless, you will want to take stock of where you are at and make a conscious effort to improve your health.1 Read through the following list to see if there are areas where you can enhance your lifestyle:1,5
Returning to the topic of sugar, there’s no need to give up the sweet stuff entirely. You might consider substituting processed sweets with naturally sweetened alternatives in order to reduce your inflammatory symptoms.1 The next section explains how natural sugars like honey and maple syrup may decrease inflammation.
Natural sugars and inflammation
Chances are you’re familiar with refined sugar and how it differs from the natural alternatives. Where refined sugar is separated from its source, reconfigured, and then added as a sweetener, natural sugar occurs—you guessed it--naturally in foods.1 This means it is sourced directly from a whole plant source.1
Whole foods like fruit and dairy products feature varying amounts of fructose and lactose—yet they’re also full of fiber, protein, and nutrients, so the body is equipped to process them efficiently.1 Natural sugar is not associated with inflammation.1 It is absorbed more slowly by the body, which helps to minimize blood sugar spikes.1
What does this mean? The verdict is that consuming natural sugar, within moderation, is just fine from a health and wellness standpoint.1 Added sugar, alternatively, should only be eaten rarely and in limited quantities.1 Please contact your doctor if your inflammatory symptoms persist even after eliminating refined sugar from your diet.
For more information on nutrition and general wellness topics, please visit the Metagenics blog.
Submitted by the Metagenics Marketing Team
by Ashley Jordan Ferira, PhD, RDN
Recent research from three well-known cohorts, The Nurses’ Health Study (NHS), NHS2 and Health Professionals’ Follow-Up Study (HPFS), reveals that higher magnesium intake is associated with lower risk of type 2 diabetes (T2D), particularly in diets with poor carbohydrate quality.1
Green leafy vegetables, unrefined whole grains, and nuts are richest in magnesium, while meats and milk contain a moderate amount.2 Refined foods, like carbohydrates (carb), are poor sources of magnesium. Diets with poor carb quality are characterized by higher glycemic index (GI), higher glycemic load (GL), and lower fiber intake. These poor carbs require a higher insulin demand.
The typical American diet is low in vegetables and whole grains, resulting in reduced magnesium intake. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for magnesium is 310-320 mg/day for adult women and 400-420 mg/day for adult men.3 Half of the US population fails to meet their daily magnesium needs, and hypomagnesemia exists in 1/3 of adults.4-5 Magnesium is needed for normal insulin signaling; current research has linked insufficient magnesium intake to prediabetes, insulin resistance and T2D.4 Increased magnesium intake has been inversely associated with T2D risk in observational studies.6
Collaborators from Tufts University, Harvard University, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, sought to investigate the impact of magnesium intake, from both dietary and supplemental sources, on the risk of developing T2D in subjects who had diets with poor carb quality and raised GI, GL, or low fiber intake.1 They followed three large prospective cohorts, NHS, NHS2 and HPFS (totaling over 202,700 participants). Dietary intake was quantified by validated food frequency questionnaires (FFQ) every 4 years, and T2D cases were captured via questionnaires. Over 28 years of follow-up, there were 17,130 cases of T2D.
Major study findings included:1
Similar to the US population estimates, 40-50% of study participants had inadequate magnesium intake. A healthful, varied diet and supplemental magnesium (especially in diets that restrict or exclude carbohydrates, dairy or meat) are essential to ensure sufficient daily magnesium intake.
Why is this Clinically Relevant?
Link to Abstract
by Bianca Garilli, ND
Magnesium is the 4th most abundant mineral in the human body following calcium, sodium, and potassium. Intracellularly, magnesium is the 2nd most abundant cation behind only potassium.1 The number of essential roles magnesium plays in the body is extraordinary, with over 300 enzymes requiring magnesium as a co-factor for proper functioning.1
This essential element is involved in numerous critical physiological processes such as energy production (ATP metabolism, oxidative phosphorylation, and glycolysis), protein synthesis, muscle contraction, nerve function, blood glucose control, hormone receptor binding, blood pressure regulation, trans membrane ion flux, gating of calcium channels, cardiac excitability, and synthesis of nucleic acids (RNA and DNA).1
Unfortunately, magnesium is one of the most prevalent nutrient gaps in the US. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee noted a substandard intake of magnesium as compared to the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR), which is the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) used to assess population sufficiency vs. insufficiency for nutrients.2-3 A 2016 publication in Advanced Nutrition concluded, “Approximately 50% of Americans consume less than the EAR for magnesium, and some age groups consume substantially less”.4 This is especially concerning when one considers the critical implications of long-term, frequently unrecognized magnesium deficiencies.
Deficiencies in magnesium can present with overt clinical manifestations such as nausea, vomiting, lethargy, weakness, personality changes, tetany and tremor, seizures, arrhythmia, and muscle fasciculations.5 In other cases, sub clinical deficiencies may be more difficult to recognize yet have equally serious effects if left untreated. Health concerns and disease processes resulting from an underlying, subclinical magnesium deficiency may contribute to low bone mineral density and cardio-metabolic implications such as metabolic syndrome, hypertension, arrhythmia, arterial calcification, atherosclerosis, heart failure, and increased risk for thrombosis.6
A sub clinical magnesium deficiency can also disrupt sleep and cause muscle cramping, two common symptoms often glossed over but which can be signs of a bigger problem if left untreated. The impact of magnesium on these two clinical manifestations will be explored further:
Magnesium and sleep
A double-blind randomized clinical trial composed of 43 elderly participants between 60-75 years of age with diagnosed insomnia was conducted.7 The experimental group was given 500 mg/day of elemental magnesium for 8 weeks (250 mg elemental magnesium from 414 mg of Mg oxide, twice daily), while the control group received a placebo for the same length of time.7 A statistically significant increase was seen in sleep time, sleep efficiency, and concentration of serum renin and melatonin, as well as a significant decrease in insomnia severity index (ISI) score, sleep onset latency, and serum cortisol level.7
For many individuals, sleep is disrupted by restless leg syndrome (RLS) or periodic limb movements (PLMS).8 A study supplementing 12.4mmol of oral magnesium in the evenings for 4-6 weeks found that the overall sleep efficiency improved from 75 to 85%.9 The Mg-supplemented group also experienced a significant reduction in PLMS associated with arousal (7 PLMS/hr vs. 17 PLMS/hr at baseline).9
Magnesium and muscle cramps
Muscle cramping is a common occurrence among women during pregnancy, in athletes, and in the elderly, for which magnesium is often recommended.10 There are only a few studies, however, that have reviewed the efficacy of magnesium for muscle cramping.10 In a Cochrane review, 7 trials (5 parallel, 2 cross-over design) were included, with 3 of these trials studying pregnancy-associated leg cramps in 202 females and 4 trials looking at idiopathic leg cramps in 322 participants.10 Results from the studies noted no significant improvement of muscle cramping in older adults, while results in pregnancy were mixed leading the authors to recommend further studies in this population.10 The authors of a review article in Scientifica note that the mixed findings may be explained by the potential that, “deficiencies of other elemental nutrients including calcium and potassium have also been implicated in muscle cramps and spasms. It may be that magnesium is potentially helpful in situations of magnesium deficiency but is not of use if the problem is related to deficiency of another nutrient.”1
Magnesium: Daily needs and sources
Magnesium is an essential macro-mineral required by the human body. The prevalence of deficiency from serum measurements ranges from 12.5-20% of the population.11 Due to the necessity of this cation for over 300 reactions in the human body and the high risk of deficiency, magnesium levels should be routinely monitored either through blood testing and/or a diet diary review. If found to be low, magnesium stores can be replaced through increasing daily intake of the mineral through nutrition as well as routine supplementation.
Foods groups high in magnesium content include green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.12 Specific foods with high magnesium levels include spinach, Swiss chard, beet greens, turnip greens, pumpkin seeds, summer squash, soybeans, sesame seeds, quinoa, black beans, cashews, sunflower seeds, brown rice and pinto beans.12
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for magnesium varies by age, sex, and whether pregnant or lactating:13
*RDA not able to be determined; Adequate Intake (AI) reported
Supplementation with high-quality magnesium is another, targeted way to reach optimal levels and fill dietary gaps. Supplementation dosing and form can be personalized and taken orally via capsules, tablets, liquid, and even powder. Some of the different forms available in the market include Mg oxide, gluconate, chloride, citrate, sulfate, glycinate, and L-threonate.
Bianca Garilli, ND
Dr. Garilli is a former US Marine turned Naturopathic Doctor (ND). She works in private practice in Northern California as well as running a consulting company working with leaders in the natural and functional medicine world such as the Institute for Functional Medicine and Metagenics. She is passionate about optimizing health and wellness in individuals, families, companies and communities- one lifestyle change at a time. Dr. Garilli has been on staff at the University of California Irvine, Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine and is faculty at Hawthorn University. She is the creator of the Veterans for Health Initiative and is the current President of the Children’s Heart Foundation, CA Chapter.
Targeted probiotic in personalized therapeutic plan for patients with diabetes shows promise
by Bianca Garilli, ND and Ashley Jordan Ferira, PhD, RDN
Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is no longer a Western world phenomena, but rather a global epidemic, with research revealing an association between higher T2D rates and a country’s wealth or economic growth.1 As a clear example, in a publication titled “Prevalence of type 2 diabetes in the Arab world: impact of GDP and energy consumption”, it was observed that the higher a country’s gross domestic product (GDP), the higher the T2D prevalence.1 T2D rates in these regions include Kingdom of Saudi Arabia- 31.6%, Oman- 29%, Kuwait- 25.4%, Bahrain- 25%, and United Arab Emirates- 25%.1
Recognizing the worldwide impact of T2D, it is critical to identify underlying causes and practical, implementable tools for prevention and treatment. It is well documented that T2D is a chronic, inflammatory condition. Higher levels of lipopolysaccharides (LPS) have been observed in diabetic vs. non-diabetic individuals.2 LPS are Gram-negative bacterial fragments that are considered endotoxins, and can, if left untreated, overgrow in the gastrointestinal tract leading to increased gut permeability.3 A “leaky gut” environment increases the opportunity for these endotoxins to migrate out of the gut and into the circulation, ultimately contributing to systemic inflammation.3
Probiotics have been studied in various models to determine their effects on LPS growth and proliferation and whether targeted probiotic administration aimed at mitigating LPS effects can reduce systemic inflammation, in particular in the T2D population.4-5 The limitations of previous research included short-term duration (≤3 months) and the utilization of mono-strain supplementation.3
To augment the current literature on this topic, a longer study (6 months) was conducted in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled fashion to examine the impact of probiotics on endotoxemia, inflammation, and cardiometabolic disease risk in Arab patients with T2D.3 In this study, 61 Saudi adults (35 females) aged 30-60 years completed the 6-month trial: 30 in the placebo group and 31 in the probiotic group.3 The placebo and probiotic groups were randomly allocated to powder sachets, to be dissolved in a glass of water twice daily, before breakfast and bedtime. The probiotic intervention provided 2.5 billion CFU/g BID and included the following strains: Bifidobacterium bifidum W23, Bifidobacterium lactis W52, Lactobacillus acidophilus W37, Lactobacillus brevis W63, Lactobacillus casei W56, Lactobacillus salivarius W24, Lactococcus lactis W19, and L. lactis W58.3
No additional therapeutics such as exercise or dietary recommendations were included during the course of the study in either group.3
In the probiotic group, significant changes in glycemic indices, lipid profile, inflammatory markers, endotoxin levels, and adipocytokine profile were observed at 6 months vs. baseline:3
The improvements in endotoxin load, inflammation, and cardiometabolic profile over time in the probiotics group are noteworthy, but they were not clinically significant when compared to the placebo group.3 Comparing the probiotic intervention to the placebo group: There was a significant and clinically relevant decrease in HOMA-IR (↓64.2%) in the probiotic group.3 HOMA-IR is correlated with most other cardiometabolic indices measured, so one could posit a potentially broader cardiometabolic benefit from the probiotic intervention, but this and other hypotheses should be explored in a future study with an adequately powered sample size.
Why is this Clinically Relevant?
Inflammation is a popular buzzword these days. But what causes it exactly? How can you know you have it, and if it’s something your body does naturally to help you heal, then what’s the big deal?
We’ve all been there: It’s late, you’re tired, and you don’t feel like turning the lights on just to cross a room…then bam! Shin finds coffee table. The resulting egg-shaped lump is formed when blood flow increases to the area, bringing with it neutrophils and macrophages as part of the immune response.
Symptoms of this acute inflammation are typical: redness, swelling, heat, and pain. The swelling that occurs as fluid collects in the area is also called “edema.” The symptoms last for a limited period of time—minutes to days—as the body heals itself.
Acute inflammation vs. chronic inflammation
When the body isn’t given enough time, or if the body is unable to resolve the immune response due to deficiency of certain nutrients, it can lead to chronic inflammation. This can also be caused by untreated infectious pathogens such as bacteria or viruses, as well as the adverse effects of long-term exposure to pollutants or chemicals, including smoking.1,2 Stress and obesity are also known factors that lead to chronic inflammation.3,4
Common symptoms of chronic inflammation include:
What can we do?While acute inflammation is one way your body can heal itself, chronic inflammation should be avoided, as a prolonged inflammatory response can cause damage to healthy cells and tissue.
Consider adopting a few simple ways to decrease inflammation. If you have been experiencing the symptoms described herein and are concerned you may have chronic inflammation, make an appointment with your healthcare practitioner.
This content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Individuals should always consult with their healthcare professional for advice on medical issues.
Eat a healthy breakfast. It sounds simple enough. But what exactly does that mean?
While there is no definition of the “perfect breakfast,” it makes sense that there are ideal and less than ideal ways to energize your body. So let’s compare typical breakfast options to various types of fires and ways to fuel your morning right!
The Cooking Fire:
This fire is the equivalent of a stove range. It burns slowly, evenly and can literally last all day.
The breakfast equivalent? A breakfast that will keep you energized all day with stable blood sugar levels should always have lean protein as its base. Like seasoned firewood, lean protein is a slow burn fuel. It improves glycemic response, inhibits the secretion of the hunger hormone ghrelin and stimulates the secretion of the satiety hormones peptide YY (PYY), glucagonlike peptide 1 (GLP-1) and cholecystokinin (CKK). 11 The net effect? You feel more satisfied and have fewer food cravings, which may also help maintain a healthy body weight.
In addition to protein, some minimally processed fats, such as avocado, olive or coconut oil, not only add flavor but also further increase satiety. Carbohydrates should ideally be limited to whole food sources (fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains)—as close to their natural form as possible. Think steel cut oats, rather than instant oatmeal.
Here are some examples of slow burn breakfasts and tips to get you started.
The Kindling Fire:
This fire burns hot and fast. It ignites quickly, then extinguishes once it has consumed its fuel: paper, leaves, etc. It’s all kindling, no logs.
Think of the typical bagel and juice breakfast as a kindling fire. The more processed, more sugar-laden your breakfast, the faster your body burns it. In the big picture of long-term health effects, within reason, any breakfast is better than no breakfast at all. True, it gives you some fast energy. But keep in mind, it may leave you hungry and needing energy by mid-morning.
Do you skip breakfast? If so, you’re in good company. In fact, according to a national survey, “breaking the fast” is not on the morning agenda of 31 million American adults. How might skipping the most important meal of the day affect you? Research supports the importance of breakfast for better energy and healthier food choices throughout the day, wins for everyone. But if you fit the following criteria, you may have even more to gain from breakfast 1,2.
What’s your excuse for skipping breakfast?
About Maribeth EvezichMaribeth Evezich, MS, RD is a functional nutrition and therapeutic lifestyle consultant. Maribeth is also a graduate of Bastyr University and the Natural Gourmet Institute. Whether she is in her kitchen experimenting, at her computer researching, or behind the lens of her camera, she is on a mission to inspire others to love whole foods. as much as she does. She lives in Seattle and is the founder of Lifestyle Medicine Consulting, LLC and the culinary nutrition blog, Whole Foods Explorer. Maribeth Evezich is a paid consultant and guest writer for Metagenics.
View all posts by Maribeth Evezich →
What’s Eating You?
Feeling overly tired, bloated, or achy? When dealing with these often stress-related concerns, there are a few questions you should ask yourself: Am I eating well? Am I getting enough sleep? Do I drink enough water and get enough exercise?
A healthy body handles daily stress better while an unhealthy lifestyle and daily stress can contribute to a deeper issue—chronic inflammation.
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to fighting off potential health threats, but unhealthy lifestyle choices can stunt the resolution of your immune response. In fact, chronic low-grade inflammation is often related to common chronic illnesses. But here’s the good news: There are a few ways you can help resolve your body’s inflammation response—starting today!
1. Ditch That Diet
Unfortunately, many of us do not receive our fair share of nutrients from food. You may feel tired and overworked, and rather than taking the time to prepare a healthy, well-balanced meal, you may often resort to convenient inflammatory trigger foods that are lacking in nutrients: refined starches, high-fat and processed red meats, fried foods, dairy, etc. These may cause an activation of the innate immune system and lead to excessive production of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
It’s time to break the cycle by incorporating anti-inflammatory foods into your day. A Mediterranean-style diet, for example, typically has a high ratio of monounsaturated fatty acids as compared to saturated fats, and more omega-3 to omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids. It’s also rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, which have shown anti-inflammatory effects in observational and intervention studies.
2. Stay Hydrated
This one is obvious. It’s always important to drink enough water throughout the day and ensure you are properly hydrated. Water makes up a large percentage of our bodies to keep all our physiological systems working together smoothly, and it helps flush out toxins and unwanted chemicals we may pick up from the environment.
Tip: Bored with plain water? Add in fresh fruit slices to liven up your H2O. Antioxidant-packed green tea is also great for afternoon sipping.
3. Put Stress to Rest
In our fast-paced modern culture, you may find yourself working too much and not getting enough rest. The initial stress response can be positive, but when left unchecked, it can lead to chronic stress and become pro-inflammatory. This is when getting extra sleep, practising yoga, or taking on leisurely activities you love can make a world of difference.
Catching those Zs at night is especially important because it’s your body’s time to rest and recharge. Lack of sleep can make you feel sluggish, unmotivated, and irritable, which only compounds a stress problem; and increased stress disturbs the quality of your sleep. Research has also linked higher levels of inflammatory proteins to getting fewer hours of sleep at night.
In addition to getting proper rest, taking time to move and exercising are helpful stress relievers, as they release “feel-good” endorphins and can reduce your body’s levels of adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones).
It’s never too late to make positive life changes!Eating a nutrient-rich diet, ensuring proper hydration, and taking time for relaxation, exercise, and healthy sleep habits are some simple ways you can support your body’s best health today.
If you’re trying to maintain a healthy weight, counting sheep may be as important as counting the carbs on your plate or weight repetitions at the gym. Because, while physical activity and a balanced diet are key factors, sleep may be the most overlooked aspect of your weight management plan.
Can you sleep your way to your dream body? Perhaps not. But if you are sleep deprived, more sleep may help you reach your weight goals. Here’s what you need to know about the sleep-weight connection.
Are you sleep deprived? The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of sleep per night for adults 24-64, slightly more for younger adults and a bit less for those older.1 But due to electronic gadget lights, chronic stress, habitual caffeine, shift-work, and many other reasons, few folks get their target rack time. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control, insufficient sleep is a public health problem2 with serious concerns for our productivity, safety, and health—including your waistline.
It’s not just when you’re sleep deprived and find yourself battling the bulge, you’re in good company. Studies have found consistency in the sleep-weight connection; sleep deficiency is linked to weight gain. The largest study of its kind involved over 200 participants and simulated a sleep-restricted workweek. It compared the effects of restricting sleep to only four hours per night compared to unrestricted sleep, up to ten hours per night.3 After only five days, the sleep-restricted subjects had gained about 2 pounds. In contrast, the control group, allowed to sleep for up to 10 hours a night, gained virtually no weight.
If sleep restriction can cause you to gain two pounds in just five days, what can happen on the scale long-term?A lot, according to women tracked for 16 years in The Nurses’ Health Study. Women reporting six hours of sleep per night were 12% more likely to gain at least 30 pounds during the study compared to the women who slept seven hours per night. But those women who were even more sleep deprived, reporting no more than five hours per night, were 28% more likely to gain at least 30 pounds during that same period!4 Apparently, with the sleep-weight connection, every hour counts.
How does less sleep = less svelte? There are several underlying factors behind the sleep-weight connection. But a common thread is our own chemistry, which almost seems to revolt when restorative sleep is intentionally or unintentionally withheld. It’s you against them—and it’s not a fair fight.
Getting to know your hunger chemistry. There’s more than your sensation of fullness and stomach-brain communication involved. Rather, when it comes to hunger regulation and sleep, we have several chemical messengers at play. And when it gets complicated between you and the sandman, those messengers are not on your side. So get to know them:
As you can see, proper balance of ghrelin and leptin is very sleep-dependent. And for the caveman, perhaps these hormones were key to survival during the shorter, sleep-heavy but food-poor days of winter. They also played a part in the ability to capitalise on the longer, lighter sleep and more food-abundant days the rest of the year.
Today, our sleep-deprived bodies are prone to having too much ghrelin and not enough leptin. The result is that the body doesn’t feel satiated, thinks it’s hungry, and needs more calories—and squirrels away those calories for the long winter. In short, ghrelin and leptin kept the caveman alive, but they may be making you heavy.
What to do?
That depends. There are two main reasons behind sleep deprivation. Either you have a sleep hygiene issue (trouble falling asleep or staying asleep), or you have a scheduling issue, in that your lifestyle is interfering with adequate sleep.
For sleep hygiene issues, the typical recommendations always merit consideration: limiting caffeine, avoiding blue light before bed, creating a cool and dark environment, etc. But, when you have a scheduling challenge, getting adequate sleep requires some lifestyle restructuring. It’s worth the time to re-engineer your schedule to slowly go to bed earlier or rise later to increase your sleep time. But in the meantime, can you catch up on sleep on the weekends?
Weekend catch-up sleep: Is it a real thing?Of course, you can get extra sleep on the weekend. But can it potentially reverse your Monday-Friday sleep deprivation? Perhaps. In a study of over 2,000 people participants, those who slept longer on the weekends, nearly two hours longer on average, had a significantly lower body mass index (BMI) than those who didn’t. Further, it appears that the sleep:BMI relationship was dose-dependent in that every extra hour of weekend catch-up sleep was associated with a significantly lower body mass.8 So catch-up sleep can indeed be a good strategy. That is, if your overall average sleep for the week puts you out of the red and into the black, as in you’ve paid back your sleep debt.
Sleep more. Weigh less. Not convinced? Sleep on it…