SUGAR : UNHEALTHFUL INDULGENCE OR TOXIC TO OUR HEALTH?

I admit.  I love me some sweet treats.  And on this past NBA All Star Weekend, I devoured a delicious plate of my mom’s kahlua cake with zero guilt.  At some rational level, we know we must say no, yet we go to the drive thru, order the double, double and say yes to the bagel; walk into the bakery and fall prey to the smell of cinnamon buns and buy a dozen to take home.  “It’s my treat, my gift to myself”, we claim.  What’s wrong with a having a little sugar once in a while?

My Mama’s delicious Kahlua cake… mmmm

According to the Canadian Sugar Institute, we consume approximately 16 tablespoons of added sugar per day.   This is way more than the American Heart Association’s recommendation of no more than 2 tablespoons of sugar per day for women and 3 tablespoons of sugar per day for men.

Sugar is everywhere. 

I work with clients who tell me all the time, “I’m not really a fan of sweets.” Yet when I review their food diaries, I see bread, yogurt, cereal, packaged oatmeal, juice and flavoured coffees consumed daily.  Yes.  All these foods contain sugar.

Sugar is laced in foods under clever names like dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose, invert syrup, grape juice concentrate, sucrose, beet sugar, barley malt, maltodextrin, turbinado, brown rice syrup and high fructose corn syrup.  It’s smart to scan a product’s ingredients.  However, remembering all the sugar aliases can be a task in itself, leaving us overwhelmed, frustrated and defeated.   My conclusion – well, there is just no solid way to avoid sugar.  It’s everywhere!

So while I took the last delicious spoonful of my dessert, I began to wonder, at what point is our love for sugar actually toxic to our health?

To clarify, our bodies need nutrients for energy, muscle growth, cellular repair and maintenance.  Glucose is the simple sugar that helps fuel this process.  In other words, we need glucose to live.  Sugar, or sucrose, on the other hand, is the combination of glucose and fructose, a fruit sugar that is twice as sweet as glucose.  It is when added to foods, refined and over-consumed, that sugar becomes the toxic villain.

Isocaloric but not isometabolic

The argument is not about the consumption of empty calories but more about the way in which the body metabolizes fructose.  Glucose is metabolized by every cell in the body.  Fructose, on the other hand, is metabolized primarily by the liver.   So eating 100 calories of glucose from a slice of whole wheat toast compared to eating 100 calories of sucrose from a slice of pie will have two very different metabolic consequences.

Sugar messes with energy levels.  The sugar high you experience when eating sugar is just that, a high.   It is “mortgaged energy” because sugar uses more nutrients and minerals from the body to process it.  And just like drugs, the high subsides and the focus returns to getting the next sugar fix.

TIP:  Replace the bagel and double, double with whole wheat toast, eggs and a fruit.  This high fiber meal will help control the rise in blood sugar and prevent you from experiencing the urge to consume more sugar.  When you start eating less sweet food, you start craving it less.

Sugar depresses immunity.   Did you know that immune function decreases by 30% for up to 3 hours by drinking just one12 oz can of soda?  By consuming sugar, you make yourself vulnerable to developing colds, influenza, infection, chronic fatigue, depression, anxiety, yeast infection, hypertension, irritable bowel syndrome, sinusitis, ADHD and even cancer of the prostate and breast.

TIP:  Is grabbing Pepsi a reminder of hanging out with Dad when you were younger?  Or does the taste of a warm cinnamon bun relate to feelings of comfort, security?  Think about what makes you crave for sugar in the first place and consider searching for healthy alternatives to the same comfort foods.

Sugar makes you fat.  When there’s too much sugar in the blood, instead of generating energy, the liver ends up generating fat and storing it in areas like our butt, hips, back and thighs.  (Yes, I’m cringing too).

TIP:   Be mindful of the choices you make and understand what makes sugar so tempting for you.  Increase your activity level and limit consumption to no more than 5g/serving.   There is strong scientific data linking excess sugar with increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome.  Stay within the recommended daily requirements and of course, if you need help, guidance, support and encouragement, Higher Level Fitness is your one stop shop to help you get back on the right track.

TIME EFFICIENT TIPS TO GET RID OF BELLY FAT

“Those who think they have no time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.”  ~ Edward Stanley

Weight gain is a dangerous side effect of a sedentary lifestyle.  In a study published in the International Journal of Obesity, one in four working women and up to one in five working men gained weight on the job in a single year.  No surprise right?  A typical workday can leave you stressed, tired – and fat.  Now take a look in the mirror.  Where do you carry your weight?  The best predictor of your future health is your body shape.  Where you carry your weight is more important than how much weight you carry. 

With a simple measuring tape placed just above your hip bones, you can quickly learn if your health is at risk.  A waist circumference of 35 inches (88cm) for women and 40 inches (102cm) for men indicate an increased risk for high blood cholesterol, insulin resistance and hypertension.    

HERE’S THE BAD NEWS

Belly fat – also known as visceral, abdominal or omentum fat – is not just unsightly to look at.  When you continue to work long hours, miss workouts, eat processed meats and meals high in fat, visceral fat grows into a metabolically active organ that can cause serious damage. 

Visceral fat poisons the liver, our nutrient storage house.  About 80% of cholesterol is naturally produced by the liver.  Cholesterol is an important building block for cell membranes and hormones like estrogen and testosterone.  The rest is from our diet.  So when we consume large portions of dairy, beef, poultry and fish, the liver will produce and then release too much bad cholesterol which ends up clinging on the artery wall, narrowing the path for blood to go through.  High blood bad cholesterols lead to heart disease and stroke. 

Visceral fat blocks muscle from using the carbohydrates we need for energy.  Our pancreas completes the job of breaking down the food we eat by secreting hormones like insulin to stimulate muscle cells to use glucose for energy.  The accumulation of visceral fat triggers insulin resistance, the inability of insulin to properly metabolize carbohydrates causing a spike in blood insulin levels, the leading cause of type 2 diabetes. 

Visceral fat squeezes our kidneys.   Our kidneys manage blood pressure and remove the wastes in our bloodstream in the form of urine.  When the kidneys are compressed from excess abdominal fat, waste builds up in the bloodstream causing our heart to work harder than it should to filter and remove waste resulting in fluid retention – swollen hands and ankles – and high blood pressure.

GOOD NEWS

With small changes in eating habits and slight increases in physical activity, you can reverse the amount of visceral fat you carry.  I can hear you say already …  “It’s too expensive to eat better!”  “I have no time to work out!” “Where do I even start?” 

Stop it! 

Stop thinking it’s too hard to be healthy and start thinking it will suck to be sick!!!    

Are beans, grains, vegetables and nuts really more expensive than lean cut meat and dairy produce?  Decrease consumption of processed meat which include hamburgers, hotdogs, steak and lean cut meats and replace it with larger portions of spinach, broccoli, cauliflower and other colourful vegetables. 

  Inflammatory chemicals are released when meat is digested leading to a host of systemic inflammatory responses.  By incorporating a more plant-based diet, we help our body by providing it with foods that facilitate optimal organ function.  Value your health and purchase foods that nourish your body and keep you healthy, longer.  Your payback is better health and lower risk of chronic disease. 

Do now.  Review the scrumptious recipes presented here.  Choose just ONE recipe you will try to make within the next 2 days.  Enjoy.  My favourite is the sweet cinnamon quinoa!

Save time with high intensity interval training (HIIT).  Based on training that involves short intervals of maximum intensity exercises alternated with periods of rest, 15 minutes twice a week of HIIT can shed excess visceral fat faster than any other form of cardiovascular training.  Say bye-bye to long boring cardio workouts!  Don’t get it twisted though.  HIIT training is physically demanding, hence why fat can be burned off so quick and can stay away longer. 

Do nowClick here for workouts that fight visceral fat.  Chose one combination exercise and set your timer for one minute.  Record the number of times you complete the exercise.  Repeat for the next 4 days and beat your personal best.  Want a challenge?  Do the same for all exercises and record how many you complete for one minute each.  Rest only to record your number between each exercise.  Repeat 3 days later and beat your personal best.

If planning nutrient dense meals for the week and interval fitness training are new to you, I highly recommend you consult with a fitness specialist at your gym, hire a personal trainer and/or access your local fitness nurse.   Want to learn more about visceral fat and how you can get rid of it?   Contact me today to book your complimentary visceral fat measurement and nutritional review. 

5 SIMPLE WAYS TO MAKE THE RIGHT CHOICES WHEN EATING OUT

We have a direct, personal and frequent connection with the food service industry. On a typical day, Canadians make 17 million restaurant visits. Think about it – We make a stop to the local coffee shop on the way to work. We schedule lunch time with friends and dinner to celebrate anniversaries and birthdays. So would it be a surprise if I told you that we are eating for reasons that having nothing to do with nutrition? Most times, we are not eating because we are hungry; we are eating because our environment is telling us to.

Marketers have our eating habits and buying behaviour down to a science. Hidden cues in the environment have converted eating from a natural human need into a national hobby. In turn, these external cues influence how much we eat, which foods we eat, how fast we eat, whether we enjoy what we eat and more. “We are a nation of mindless eaters. Most of us have too much chaos going on in our lives to consciously focus on every bite we eat, and then ask ourselves if we are full.” states Brian Wansink, author of “Mindless Eating: Why we Eat More Than We Think”.

“The secret is to change your environment so that it works for you rather than against you.” states Wansink. Those who focused on changing their surroundings found it easier to adhere to cleaner and better eating choices than those who focused on changing eating habits. The end result – mindless weight loss! Here are 5 ways how:

1. Use the Two Headed Savings Approach
Our senses get numbed when we continually experience the same stimulus. In other words, our taste buds get bored easily. This is why all you can eat offers and buffet restaurants are so popular. We not only eat more when there is more variety, but we also eat more if we simply think there is more. Studies demonstrate that when given three flavours of yogurt are available, 23% more will be consumed than when given only one flavour option. The more choices available, the more we will consume. The more we consume, the wider the waistband.

Instead, never have more than two items on your plate at a time. Use the salad plate to eat variety platters and eat only what’s on your plate before you get seconds. Pick only two of the following three: dessert, drink, appetitizer. The lack of variety will slow you down and you will end up eating less, saving calories and dropping pounds.

2. Pass the Bread
When food is at an arm’s length away, the distance between impulse and action is too short. If you see it, you will eat it. We have to face it, we have poor food memory and our stomach can’t count. We can’t count whether we had three handfuls of popcorn at the theatre or six, or seven. In one study, five minutes after dinner, 31% of people leaving an Italian restaurant couldn’t remember how much bread they ate and 12% of those who ate bread denied having eaten any at all!

Make it a hassle to eat. Request to withhold serving the bread bowl ahead of time or take a few pieces and put in on a small plate rather than eating straight off the serving bowl so you can visually see how much you are eating. Pass it around to others first or leave it at the other end of the table. When the food is made inconvenient, you eat less and lose more.

3. Divide Then Dine
We eat with our eyes. Even if we are stuffed, we will eat whatever amount of food that has filled our plate. I have a name for that — the “waste-not eater”. Portion sizes are twice as large now than they were before. A standard dinner plate at restaurants now averages 12 inches, up from 9 inches in the 1970s. No wonder why there are extra rolls over those jeans!

As well, menu descriptions, restaurant ambiance, plate size, glass length and width are all manipulated with the goal to increase sales and maximize profits. These details have a powerful effect on our buying behaviour and perception of eating patterns. There is no way to control serving sizes at restaurants.

What you can do, however, is split an entree with a friend or request to have half of your order wrapped up to go. Share that half bottle of wine with your company and order more only when everyone is completely finished. By controlling your own portion size, you will reduce the amount of calories from the get go and save on money and inches!

4. Step Away from the Bottomless Trap
How many times did you take advantage of the free refills when out for all you can eat wings with friends? Can you count the amount of times you made a stop at the all you can eat sushi place or fish n chips diner? If it takes up to twenty minutes for us to register that we are full,  at what point will we tell ourselves to stop eating if food is everywhere and limitless? Studies show that the more we eat, the less accurate we are in estimating how much was eaten. As one becomes more obese, external cues are more heavily relied on as cues to stop eating rather than focusing on the identification of what it feels to be full.

My recommendation is to avoid these restaurants all together. If your goal is to lose weight, shed fat and take away inches, going to these establishments is self-sabotage. Stay away. Period.

5. Consider Your Company
Over 35% of Canadians prefer to meet at a restaurant, lobby or pub over other options like outdoor activities and hobby establishments. Restaurants and eating out bring people together. When we are with people we enjoy, we lose track of time, order more food, fill up the wine glass more often. Studies show that when we eat with one other person, we eat 35% more than if we were to eat alone. With 4 other people at the table, we eat 75% more. With 7 or more people, 96% more! We are also influenced by the speed at which others around us eat as well as how much will be eaten.

Since we tend to mimic the speed at which others eat, pace yourself with the slowest eater at your table. Try to be the last person to start eating and don’t add any more food to your plate or order more items until what you already have is finished. This brings awareness to the forefront and slows down the pace of eating.

By reengineering your food life, you can enjoy eating without obsessing and go from mindless eating to mindlessly eating better.  If the summer’s events has got you nervous about weight gained, consult with a fitness specialist at your gym, hire a personal trainer and/or access your nutrition expert. Do you have a health concern that requires a more in-depth nutritional overhaul and health review? Contact me today to book your complimentary nutritional review and health assessment.  Learn more by visiting http://www.higherlevelfitness.net

HEALTH TIPS FOR NEW MOMS

This month I spent some time with Marlo Boux – host of girltalkwithmarlo.com – to talk about what new moms must focus on for the first 3 months after having a baby.  What happens to your body after baby is born?  What exercises do you need to focus on for the first 6 weeks? 3 months?  Are there foods that will help me get rid of belly fat?  Find out now…  (click on picture for video postcast)

CAN I EXERCISE DURING PREGNANCY?

Gone are the days when a woman can take a “pregnancy pause”.  “Exercising during pregnancy relieves lower back pain, boosts energy, facilitates delivery and of course, minimizes mood swings associated with fluctuating hormone levels” states Linda Jacob, a STOTT Pilates instructor and mother of two.  “I incorporated more physical activity during my second pregnancy and the experience was like night and day”.

Even after birth, research has demonstrated that not only does exercise benefit mom and baby during pregnancy, but after too.  Focused efforts on incorporating daily activity during pregnancy:

  • minimize labor related risks like preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, caesarean section and post partum depression;
  • make it easier to lose excess weight gained; and
  • improve the child’s heart health and keep them lean throughout their lifetime

So, yes, you can and should exercise during pregnancy.  The type and intensity of exercise largely depend on previous activity and fitness levels prior to pregnancy.
The decision to be physically active during pregnancy should be made with her primary health care provider.   Developed by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP) and endorsed by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC) and Health Canada, the Physical Activity Readiness-Questionnaire for Pregnancy  is a tool that can be completed for women who want to exercise during pregnancy.  For most pregnant women, exercise is very beneficial, but for those who are high risk, exercise should be closely monitored to ensure there are no additional threats to mom and baby.

Image
Pregnant at 21 Wks – Here, I am just about to walk into a Bikram Yoga Class that I attend to once/week.

Start smart and start small.  Most women find that the best time to begin an exercise program is in the second trimester when nausea, vomiting and extreme tiredness subsides.  “If you were not an exerciser prior to becoming pregnant, then do not start anything new” states Jacob.  “Even when you begin with just walking and stretching for 5 to 10 minutes a day, you will yield positive health benefits.”  As proficiency increases, so can your activity levels.

Aim for 30 minute sessions four times a week.  Choose exercises that work your entire body like brisk walking, stationary cycling and swimming.  Focus on improving tone in the upper body and abdominal area and incorporate exercises that help strengthen legs to prepare for shifts in balance as your pregnancy progresses.  “You want to prevent the painful leg cramps associated with pregnancy” states Jacob.  “Include stretching in each session to help relax your body and help it function more naturally”.

Perform Kegel exercises daily.  Kegel exercises help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles that support the bladder, uterus and bowels. You need to have the ability to relax and control these muscles in preparation for labor and birth.  Imagine trying to stop the flow of urine or trying not to pass gas, contract and hold for a count of five and then relax.  Perform multiple sets of 15 – 25 repetitions each day.  Postpartum, Kegels also promote the healing of perineal tissues, increase urinary control and help these muscles return to their healthy state.

Listen to your body.  With any exercise workouts you participate in, ensure that you are always breathing through and are very cautious of rapid positional changes.  You are exercising to maintain fitness levels.  As pregnancy progresses, resting heart rate increases and there is less room for lung expansion.  Pay attention to exercise intensity and slow down when feeling dizzy, short of breath or see swelling in the extremities.  “Avoid supine (on back) and prone (on stomach) exercises after the first trimester (12 weeks)” states Jacob. “Do not do activities that could put you at risk for an injury or fall like contact sports, horseback riding, mountain climbing and downhill skiing”. 

Consume an adequate diet and stay hydrated.  Gaining too much weight, sometimes also referred to as “eating for two”, is linked with birth complications like preeclampsia (pregnancy induced hypertension).  Research has even demonstrated that obese women can benefit from losing weight during pregnancy.  Avoid fried foods.  Eat whole foods like fruits, vegetables, rice and legumes.  Drink plenty of fluids when exercising.   Want to know how much weight YOU should gain?  Check Health Canada’s pregnancy weight gain calculator here.

Know the red flags.  Use caution when exercising in hot weather, wear appropriate clothing and ensure your training environment has adequate air circulation.  In a joint document published by SOGC and CSEP, women should stop exercising and seek medical attention if any of the following symptoms occur:

  • excessive shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • presyncope (lightheaded, feeling faint, muscular weakness)
  • painful uterine contractions
  • leakage of amniotic fluid
  • vaginal bleeding

The improved body awareness that you gain from exercising will help you manage the physical symptoms of pregnancy with greater ease.  There are added benefits of working with a fitness nurse, personal trainer or STOTT Pilates instructor during your pregnancy.  Contact me at Higher Level Fitness for additional guidance, support and encouragement. I can be reached at maryann@higherlevelfitness.net