Monday, June 30, 2008

What Are Prebiotics and Should I Consume More?

“Prebiotics” are a food ingredient that humans are not capable of digesting (soluble fiber), yet they keep the existing strains of “friendly bacteria” in the colon healthy. Inulin is a type of plant fiber that is not digestible in the human intestine and is considered a prebiotic. Inulin is isolated from vegetables or fruits. Inulin is commonly added to low-fat foods to help promote a “fat-like” mouthfeel, providing a better taste and texture. It is fermented in the colon by friendly bacteria that produce short-chain fatty acids, which have notable health effects. Additional food sources rich in prebiotics are asparagus, oatmeal, barley and many types of beans.

Thus, prebiotics nourish the “good guys” and promote their growth and survival. Keeping the “good” bacteria healthy and well fed has beneficial effects, namely, encouraging the existing healthy bacteria to multiply so that they can overpower the “bad” disease-promoting, harmful bacteria strains.

Why, then, is it good for your health to increase the number of these bacteria (by ingesting them in food) and feed them with prebiotics to keep them happy? Because good bacteria:

  • Overpower bad disease-causing bacteria.
  • Help boost the body's immune system.
  • Help the body absorb vitamins and minerals and increase the body's internal production of B vitamins.
  • May help bone health by increasing the absorption of calcium and the ability of the bones to absorb calcium.
Note that prebiotics differ from “probiotics.” Probiotics are actual live “healthy” bacteria added to the diet, and they promote health; prebiotics feed the probiotic bacteria. Common names of these healthy probiotic bacteria that are added to foods and reside in the colon are Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria (this strain is included in Dannon Activia® yogurt). Should you try and get both pre- and probiotics into your diet? More and more scientific evidence is emerging suggesting that ingesting the good bacteria and their food has beneficial health effects. So, eat your yogurt and your fiber and enjoy better gastrointestinal health.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Why Is Running On a Treadmill Easier?

Q: Why does running on a treadmill seem easier than running on the road or on a track?

A: There are definite pros and cons that go along with using the “mill” for training.

You are right: running on a treadmill is easier (physically) than running outside because you are being propelled by the treadmill belt, a padded moving platform, and you are not running against any wind resistance. What’s more, treadmill running is weatherproof, so you can exercise in a controlled climate without concern for heat, humidity or frigidity.

While it may be easier on you physically, mentally it is a different story. Let’s face it, running like a hamster round-and-round on a wheel for long periods of time can be quite monotonous! Treadmill running is much more difficult psychologically than outdoor running due to the lack of visual distractions as well as variety in terrain. I generally recommend that those individuals training for an upcoming road race spend the bulk of their training outdoors on the road to acclimate to the environment as well as the twists and turns of the road and the variable terrain.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Is a Liquid Diet (Such as “Juicing”) Safe?

Q: Is a liquid diet (such as “juicing”) safe?

I am not a big proponent of “juicing” or any other type of liquid diet. I especially object to the false or misleading claims that frequently accompany these unproven and potentially dangerous nutrition tactics. Oftentimes juicing regimens are linked with the concept of detoxification, or “flushing the body of toxins.” What’s more, detox diets sometimes advocate additional techniques such as laxatives and enemas to help “cleanse” the intestinal tract. The premise that toxins build up in our bodies and that we need to cleanse our bodies by resorting to fasting or juicing regimens to get rid of them provokes fear in people and is simply not supported by scientific evidence. In fact, the body has its own built-in cleansing systems—namely, the liver and kidneys—that specialize in rounding up toxins for excretion in the urine and stool.

That said, juice does have many redeeming qualities (some are loaded with vitamins, minerals and disease-fighting antioxidants) as long as they are consumed in small amounts as an addition to a healthy whole foods diet. Concord grape juice, pomegranate juice and orange juice (with added calcium and vitamin D) are a few of the highly nutritious juices out there that top my list. Just remember, though, juices concentrate the calories; one 8-ounce glass of OJ contains 110 calories and 0 grams of fiber—that’s the calorie count of two small oranges, which provide a total of 6 grams of dietary fiber! So don’t make those juice glasses a bottomless pit or you’ll pay at the scale.

The take-away message: NOTHING beats the nutritional benefits of eating a plant-based diet filled with whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats. Add daily exercise to the mix and you have the secret for good health and longevity, a benefit that no liquid diet could possibly provide.

Monday, June 9, 2008

How Can I Build Muscle Tone In My Arms?

Q: What can I do to build muscle tone in my arms?

A: The best thing you can do to firm up those arms and get rid of that extra underarm “jiggle” for swimsuit season is to get yourself right over to the nearest gym (or you can even do these exercises in the privacy of your own home) and start a regular program of building and toning strength-training exercises. For the arms, you will need to work on the muscles in the back of your arms (those out-of-shape triceps) and the muscles in the front (the “Popeye” muscles, or biceps). You can tone those muscle groups using gym equipment (or makeshift equipment from your own home). Some great exercises that target the triceps are triceps pushdowns, bench dips, triceps kickbacks and plain old push-ups. Exercises that target the biceps generally involve “curls,” using dumbbells, barbells or even heavy soup cans from your pantry.

That said, keep in mind that there are two separate types of tissue: fat and muscle. The best way to keep those arms looking lean and shapely is to take a two-pronged approach: lose the fat and put on and tone up the muscle. Losing body fat involves combining regular calorie-burning aerobic exercise (such as walking or running) with a calorie-controlled diet. Adding and toning muscles requires a regular program of strength-training exercises. Start putting it all together now, and before you know it you’ll be ready for summer looking healthy and fit!