Monday, November 24, 2008

How Do I Not Overdo It At Thanksgiving Dinner?

Q: How do I not overdo it at Thanksgiving dinner while still taking part in the tradition of eating?

A: One meal will not make or break your diet or weight management goals. In fact, it’s probably very rare to find a person who doesn’t overeat at festive holiday gatherings where good food and holiday spirit abound. Keep in mind that the real damage occurs when we keep on overeating from Turkey Day all the way through January 1. We each need to be vigilant about putting the brakes on excessive calorie overload during this dangerous time of year for the battle of the bulge.

That said, how can we prevent feeling like a stuffed turkey after this year’s Thanksgiving meal? Planning ahead is the key as well as using a few calorie-cutting tricks. Lighten up your favorite holiday recipes by cutting back on fat, sugar and salt and substituting healthier ingredients. Load up on lower-calorie vegetable dishes before and on your holiday dinner plate. Use strict portion control for the higher-calorie foods and be careful about drinking your calories—nutmeg or alcoholic drinks that can easily add to your meal’s calorie overload.

The goal of this holiday season should be to avoid weight gain. Make your New Year’s resolution on Thanksgiving Day by watching your food intake and getting that exercise in—set a goal of walking away from the scale reading the same number on January 1, 2009, as it reads on November 27, 2008, and you will truly have given yourself the holiday gift of health.

Monday, November 17, 2008

How Do I Know An Antioxidant Supplement Is Working?

Q: I have been taking an antioxidant supplement, but how do I know if it’s doing anything for me?

A: Scientists have proven beyond any shadow of a doubt that consuming a plant-based diet of whole foods—naturally rich in antioxidant vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals—can provide substantial health benefits such as prevention of chronic disease like diabetes, cancer and heart disease. In contrast, consuming man-made supplements of concentrated antioxidants extracted from plants, has not shown to benefit health. In fact, some studies have demonstrated that consuming certain antioxidant supplements increases risk of disease! A 2007 review article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (G. Gjelakovic et al.) revealed that subjects taking beta-carotene, vitamin E or vitamin A supplements, either alone or in combination, actually raised their risk of dying prematurely.

So what’s the take-away message regarding whether your antioxidant supplements are doing anything for you? Swallowing pills will not buy you good health or a long life. An active lifestyle combined with eating a Mediterranean-style plant-based diet, filled with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, olive oil, nuts and a small amount of fish, is the secret to better health. This is the ultimate wellness prescription that simply cannot compare to anything that can be purchased in a bottle.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Why Is Stretching After Working Out Important?

Q: Why is stretching after working out important?

A: This is a great question because it addresses the importance not only of practicing stretching but also the best and safest technique for performing this valuable type of exercise. Why stretch? Stretching increases flexibility, a key component of physical fitness that is often neglected. A greater degree of flexibility is believed to help prevent injury (and low back pain) and improve sports performance. We lose flexibility as we age, so practicing a regular program of stretching the major muscle groups can help prevent loss of flexibility and its associated negative impact on quality of life in our golden years.

Stretching properly involves a slow, steady elongation of the muscles and tendons to the point of tightness—never pain—and holding the stretch for several seconds. (Never use bouncing or ballistic-type stretching, which can cause injury.) It is best to stretch muscles that have been warmed up internally from exercise as opposed to cold muscles. In fact, stretching cold muscles can actually increase risk of injury, as a cold muscle is more prone to strains! Think of a muscle as if it were a rubber band. If you stretch cold rubber, it snaps and breaks; however, if you warm the rubber first, it stretches more elastically and fluidly, like taffy.

Stretching is different from “warming up.” A warm-up is what you do before you begin a bout of exercise and generally consists of a low-intensity version of the exercise you are planning on engaging in (such as a fast walk before a jog). A good exercise routine would be to warm up (work up a light sweat and raise the internal temperature of your muscles), followed by a series of brief stretches, then perform your exercise bout, warm down and end with another series of stretches. Practice this plan and you will have a well-rounded fitness routine.

Monday, November 3, 2008

What Foods Can Aid Constipation?

Q: I have been constipated for a few months now and want to attempt to treat it through changing my diet first. What kind of a menu do you recommend?

A: The best way to treat constipation through diet is to take a two-pronged approach: bump up your dietary fiber intake and drink more fluids. Constipation is a very common problem in our society. We are nation of people who eat a diet woefully short on fiber. In fact, the average person consumes about half (14-15 grams) of the daily recommended dietary fiber (20-35 grams) for good health. The good news is higher fiber diets can effectively treat constipation as well as lower cholesterol, help control blood sugar in diabetics and even promote weight control. (High-fiber foods tend to be lower in calories and are filling.)

The best high-fiber menu includes a cornucopia of whole and unprocessed plant foods. For example, oatmeal and fruit for breakfast, fruit and nuts for snacks, whole grain bread, vegetables and beans for lunch, and more whole grains, salad, veggies and a small amount of animal protein (such as skinless poultry or fish) for dinner. However, when you do increase your fiber intake, you must also increase your fluid intake concurrently or the high-fiber menu could backfire and actually increase constipation! So make sure to get in those 8 glasses of water a day and you should have great success in treating your constipation problem without prescription medication.

On a final note, in my book, Cholesterol DOWN (Three Rivers Press), one of the 10 steps I prescribe for lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol is to take Metamucil—a powerful cholesterol-lowering fiber (psyllium seed husk), which also helps with regularity.