Monday, September 29, 2008

What Are the Health Benefits of Green Tea?

Q: I know green tea is good for me, but what are the real health benefits?

No doubt about it, green tea can harness the power of plant protection against disease. A few cups of green tea daily can defend against a host of cancers (most notably colorectal, prostate, oral and skin cancers), provide cardiovascular protection via antioxidant and anti-inflammatory mechanisms, and even offer therapeutic benefits for people with rheumatoid arthritis.

What exactly is in green tea that wards off disease and will put you on the road to better health and longevity? Researchers believe that catechins, or powerful antioxidant plant chemicals (polyphenols), are responsible for the anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and cardioprotective effects of green tea. Scientists have isolated one type of green tea polyphenol called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG for short), which is believed to be the major health-protective component in green tea. (Incidentally, green tea contains 40 percent more polyphenols than black tea.)

So let's get over the Boston Tea Party and borrow a nice habit from the British . . . teatime in the afternoon. But let's instead make it green tea. Bottoms up for better health!

Monday, September 22, 2008

How Can I Gain Healthy Weight and Energy?

Q: I am 75 years old and my doctor has ordered me to put on about 10 pounds (I am very thin and agree I need more weight to be healthier). What are some foods I should eat to gain healthy weight and energy?

Gaining weight healthfully is actually trickier than you might think. The object is to make the weight gain mostly lean body mass (muscle) and not much body fat. You can accomplish this by taking in more calories than you burn, in addition to partaking in a regular aerobic exercise and muscle-strengthening exercise program. (Note that people in your age category benefit highly from a regular program of strength training.)

You will also want to gradually increase your consumption of healthy, energy-dense foods. Keep in mind that you can boost caloric intake healthfully without having to purchase expensive supplements—it just takes a little planning. What’s more, your age group tends to have a problem getting in enough protein, so you will need to be especially attuned to increasing your intake of higher-calorie (but still healthy) protein sources. To learn more about which foods are highest in “nutrient density,” you can access the USDA site.

Here are some other suggestions for getting in extra calories:
  • Choose larger portions of healthy protein sources: peanut butter or other types of nut butters (a great higher-calorie source of protein and nutrients), low-fat dairy such as yogurt and cottage cheese, nuts and lean cuts of chicken, turkey and fish, such as salmon and tuna.
  • Choose higher-calorie juices more often, such as cranberry and pomegranate juice, as opposed to drinking calorie-free beverages like tea and coffee.
  • Choose a higher-calorie whole-grain cereal such as Post Grape-Nuts (208 calories in 1/2 cup serving) versus a low-calorie refined-grain cereal such as Kellogg's Special K (only 117 calories in an entire cup).
  • Add generous amounts of healthy fats like olive and canola oil into your day
  • Add in a few high calorie snacks throughout the day such as a nutritious shakes or smoothie made with real fruit, fat-free milk, sugar and some added non fat dry milk and even peanut butter to boost calories and nutrient density
  • Make sure to eat three meals a day, plus get in those higher-calorie snacks and you should be on your way to putting on some extra weight the healthy way!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Should We Prescibe Cholesterol Drugs For Kids?

Q: There's been talk about prescribing cholesterol drugs to children. What are your thoughts on this?

Pediatricians are concerned with the rise of childhood obesity in our nation, as well as the fact that high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure–all major risk factors for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S–are increasingly diagnosed in obese children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has just revised its guidelines for cholesterol screening and treatment in our nation’s children. These guidelines take a more aggressive stance regarding prescription drug treatment, with the newest recommendation dropping the age of consideration for drug treatment from “older than 10” to as young as 8.

Is it wise to prescribe medication to our children to fix what used to be considered purely an adult problem? And will statin medication taken in childhood truly lower our kids’ risk of contracting early heart disease as adults?

While I agree with the push to both increase detection of high cholesterol levels in children and, more specifically, with taking aggressive action to control this major risk factor for heart disease, I question the wisdom of freely placing children as young as 8 years old on prescription statin medication to solve this problem. Isn’t this strategy almost like taking a “Band-Aid” approach?

First and foremost, we as a nation of parents must change the environment of poor nutrition and lack of physical activity that lead to obesity and high cholesterol levels in our kids. Prevention is the best strategy! That said, I believe that prescription medication should be reserved only for those children who have been aggressively treated with lifestyle changes for a long period of time and have not responded favorably.

Monday, September 8, 2008

What Is The Benefit Of "Hot" Yoga?

Q: At my gym, they offer a yoga class in a special room where the temperature is turned way up, I assume to induce sweating. What is the benefit of this technique?

A: Called “hot yoga,” this particular brand of yoga is all the rage these days and basically consists of performing a series of yoga poses in a heated room. And we are talking really HOT rooms, heated to a temperature of up to 105 degrees F. The idea being that the hot room temperature helps your muscles warm up more quickly, which supposedly enables them to stretch more fluidly and to a greater degree. I have attended hot yoga classes where the instructor utilizes portable space heaters, sprinkled around the room and turned on full blast (which in hot and humid Florida is not exactly pleasurable). These hot yoga studios do induce sweating and not just a drip or two but profuse sweating!

Is there a benefit to performing yoga in heated rooms? Scientific research in the area of stretching has shown that the only effective way to truly warm up the muscles internally is to perform physical activity (such as light jogging) that increases the internal, or core body, temperature. Sitting in a sauna, for example, applies external heat and makes you sweat but is not an effective means of raising the core temperature inside the muscle cells. What’s more, heat regulation and the potential for heat illness is a concern I have because the hot yoga environment could potentially hinder the body from using its main source of heat dissipation, evaporation of sweat from the skin. Anytime we exercise in the heat, we must be cognizant of the potential for heat illness. However, if you enjoy hot yoga, then by all means continue taking classes, which are very helpful for many people in increasing flexibility and releasing stress. Just make sure to hydrate well before, during, and after exercise, acclimate to exercise in the heat and take as many precautions as you can to prevent heat illness.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

How Do Energy Drinks Impact My Body?

Q: What’s the deal with energy drinks like Red Bull or Full Throttle? How do they impact my body and energy?

A: We live such busy lives, is it any wonder so many of us feel tired and run-down and in need of a shot of energy to keep us going? Sadly, the recipe for good health and vigor simply can’t be bought in a single bottle of liquid. The most energetic people are those who are physically fit, and physical fitness comes from living a lifestyle that includes regular exercise, eating a healthy diet and routinely getting a good night’s sleep. Time management is also another piece of the puzzle, learning how to prioritize and leaving some time for rest, relaxation and even a quick cat-nap to reinvigorate ourselves during our long, hectic days.

What is in that energy drink that makes us feel more alert and full of pep after we down one? The answer, in a single word, is stimulants, namely caffeine and taurine. Caffeine is a stimulant drug that will result in raising your mental alertness but for many has unwanted side effects, such as jitteriness and stomach upset to name a few. And what about the “crashing” effect when it wears off? Taurine is an amino acid that is believed to augment the stimulant effect of caffeine. Some of energy drinks also contain a stiff dose of sugar, which will contribute to raising your blood sugar level (albeit short-term), giving you a nice lift but could add considerably to your waistline while it peps you up (one 8.3-fluid-ounce can of Red Bull contains 115 calories and 26 grams of sugar).

The bottom line is that no energy drink can compete with a healthy lifestyle for keeping your energy level up—the natural way.