What's Gluten?

 July 21, 2014

   Gluten is a protein composite found in wheat, barley, rye and related grains and used in cosmetics, hair products, and other dermatological preparations.  It's a combination of two proteins, gliadin and glutenin. Gluten's binding quality enables it to stretch to form long elastic strands and gives dough an elastic quality with it's ability to rebound shape and keep it under pressure. 

They are Not the Same Grains Our Ancestors Ate

   Our basic diet evolved over the course of two million years. That original diet consisted primarily of wild plants, fruits, animal protein, and fats. The grains we consumed were wild grasses and their seeds. But humans ate them minimally due to the processing needed to make the seeds edible and because of a limited caloric return. That was in the beginning. But over time these wild grasses were developed though cultivation and farming. This transitioned hunter gatherers to an agricultural lifestyle, and led to ever increasing technology, rapid population growth, and the evolution of modern societies as we know them today.

   Grains offer some wonderful benefits as a food. Their caloric value is inexpensive, they provide the ability to feed a large number of people, and they can be stored for long periods of time. Grains play a significant role in the diet of most of the world's population and in most instances they are eaten without noticeable health effects. 

   We have been around for almost two million years but we have only been eating grains for a few thousand. As such, our bodies have not had the time to fully adapt to this relatively new food in our diet. Also, modern farming, harvesting, and processing methods strip grains of their nutritional integrity, decreasing their digestibility, often making them highly toxic and inflammatory for our bodies. Today’s grains are proving to be one of the major underlying contributors to the development of  the degenerative diseases of today.

What is Gluten Intolerance?

   Gluten intolerance occurs when the body cannot process the protein composite and the body's response can damage a person's intestines, preventing them from absorbing vital nutrients. If someone has a gluten intolerance, doctors typically recommend a gluten-free diet. Patients must avoid eating any foods and ingredients that contains gluten, including bread, beer, french fries, pasta, salad dressing, soy sauce and even some soups (unless otherwise marked as "gluten-free"). Recently, many people who don't suffer from gluten intolerance have taken up gluten-free diets.

   Those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity can't tolerate gluten and they experience symptoms similar to those with celiac disease. These individuals, however, don't have the same antibodies and intestinal damage as those with celiac disease. Diarrehea, fatigue, joint pain, headaches, fogginess are a few of the reactions. 
Is Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity the Same as Wheat Allergy? 

   No. Wheat allergy is a rare type of gluten intolerance — a classic food allergy marked by skin, respiratory or gastrointestinal reactions to wheat. Diagnosis is done with skin prick tests, wheat-specific IgE blood testing and a food challenge. Individuals who have gluten related symptoms but test negative for a wheat allergy might have non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

Celiac disease 

   Also known as coeliac disease, celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that can occur in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. It affects 1 in every 141 people in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health and about 2.5 million Americans are undiagnosed, at risk for long-term health complications. Celiac disease can develop at any age after people start eating foods or medicines that contain gluten. Left untreated, celiac disease can lead to additional serious health problems such as Type I diabetes, multiple sclerosis, dermatitis herpetiformis (an itchy skin rash), anemia, osteoporosis, infertility and miscarriage, neurological conditions like epilepsy and migraines, short stature, and intestinal cancers.

Can I Lose Weight if I Go Gluten Free?

   Yes and no. People who go off gluten to lose weight sometimes end up gaining weight instead. When you consume gluten-free packaged products they are usually high in saturated fat, sugar and sodium just like other processed foods. These products often contain high-glycemic ingredients like white rice flour or fillers like potato starch that can affect your blood sugar and trigger cravings. Going gluten free unnecessarily will affect how your body takes in nutrients. Nutritional deficiency is another form of malnutrition effecting the body's ability to function properly.

   As in all situations talk with your physician before making any changes to eliminate gluten from your diet.


Hydration: Important to Your Health

July 14, 2014

  Your body depends on water for survival. Every cell, tissue and organ needs water to function correctly. Your body uses water to maintain its temperature, remove waste and lubricate joints. It makes up a large percentage of blood, the life giving red liquid that brings oxygen and nutrients. Vital processes, such as one’s immune system, depend on it. Every day we lose water when we sweat, urinate and even breathe. When the weather is hot we lose water even faster. Other conditions such as vomiting or diarrhea hasten the water loss.

  I checked out the Mayo clinic site to get my percentages right and they go like this: we're made up of about 60 percent water. The lungs are 90 percent water, the brain is 70 percent and our blood is more than 80 percent. Thirst begins after we are mildly dehydrated. That means we shouldn't wait until we're thirsty to begin hydrating. Studies on dehydration and the  body indicate that deficits in coordination, work capacity and mental sharpness begin when we are at least 1 percent dehydrated.  

Dehydration and Its Effects

   July, August and September are the hottest months of the year in California. If you’re not properly hydrated you may experience fatigue, muscle cramps, dizziness or more serious symptoms. Many of us remember to drink water only after our bodies are already dehydrated. One clue the color of our urine. Dark yellow or amber color is a sign of dehydration.

   Our kidneys function more efficiently when there is plenty of water in our bodies. If the kidneys have to economize on water, more energy is needed for the kidneys to function and that results in wear and tear on their tissues. This occurs when the kidneys are under stress, for example when the diet contains excessive amounts of salt or toxic substances that need to be eliminated.  

   Also, dehydration inhibits the effectiveness of our lymphatic system and allows cellular waste products to linger and create inflammation issues. It reduces the overall volume of blood and lymphatic fluids that are integral in a healthy immune system response. 

   Prolonged dehydration can cause central nervous system diseases such as vascular disorders, Parkinson's, muscular sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Huntington's disease, periphrial neuropathy, Alzheimer's and urinary tract infection. In extreme cases this can create confusion sometime misinterpreted as dementia.

Fruits and vegetables are full of water: iceberg and romaine lettuce, kale, mustard greens, cabbage, spinach, carrots and red tomatoes; melons, coconut, grapefruit, cucumbers, pears, strawberries, apples, blueberries and mangoes are just a few.

How Much Should You Drink?

   The Institute of Medicine determined that an adequate intake for men is roughly 13 cups of total beverages a day. For women it is about 9 cups. This includes fruit juices. Another option is herbal tea. You can steep leaves from plants like mint, verbena or linden to make them flavorful. Avoid coffee, caffeinated tea, and cocoa if you are dehydrated.

   When thinking about exercising and water intake there are no set guidelines. Heat, humidity, intensity and duration are all factors to be considered. However, The American Council on Fitness has suggested the following basic water intake guidelines for people doing moderate-to-high intensity exercise:

17 to 20 ounces of water 2 to 3 hours before you start exercising

8 ounces of water 20 to 30 minutes before you start exercising or during your warm-up

7 to 10 ounces of water every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise

8 ounces of water no more than 30 minutes after you exercise

My advice:  enjoy your summer and stay well hydrated!

June is National Fruit & Vegetable Month

June 16, 2014

   Vegetables truly are one of the best sources of vitamins, minerals, and disease-fighting phytochemicals. You should be getting at least three servings of vegetables daily, but I encourage you to eat even more than that, since they’re so good for you.

   Remember: starchy veggies like corn, peas, potatoes (white and sweet), and winter squash contain more calories than water-rich, nonstarchy vegetables.

   One of the great things about eating your daily servings of vegetables is they come with an array of nutrients, including the B vitamins folate, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin B6; antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, lycopene, quercetin, and anthocyanins; and countless other phytonutrients.

   Most fruits are naturally low in fat, sodium, and calories. They don't have cholesterol either. You should be getting 2 servings of fruit daily and that does include juices. Fruits are sources of many essential nutrients which are underconsumed, including potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin C, and folate (folic acid). Diets rich in potassium may help to maintain healthy blood pressure. Fruit sources of potassium include bananas, prunes and prune juice, dried peaches and apricots, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, and orange juice.

   Dietary fiber from fruits, as part of an overall healthy diet, helps reduce blood cholesterol levels and may lower risk of heart disease. Fiber is important for proper bowel function. It helps reduce constipation and diverticulosis. Fiber-containing foods such as fruits help provide a feeling of fullness with fewer calories. Fruit juice however doesn't contain the same fiber.
   Where can you get fresh vegetables? Local farmers markets are a great place to get fresh fruits and vegetables.
Here are some tips to try this summer:
  • Add fruit, such as bananas, strawberries, or blueberries, to your cereal or oatmeal in the morning.
  • Add extra vegetables to your sandwich at lunch, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, or avocado.
  • Instead of dipping pretzels or crackers in hummus, use carrot or celery sticks.
  • Sneak vegetables into your favorite dishes. For example, add mashed cauliflower to your macaroni and cheese for more nutrition and fewer calories.

   After a recent visit to the Cambria farmer's market, a friend sent me this delicious recipe. Consuelo Macedo writes for the Cambrian's Culinary Corner. 

Oven Roasted Vegetables w Frozen Yogurt & Strawberries
Large purple beets: scrubbed well, tops reserved, wrapped in foil

Golden beets: scrubbed, tops reserved

Fingerling potatoes: Tossed with chopped onions, olive oil, salt and pepper

Cauliflower: center sliced into 1-inch “steaks”, large flowerlets separated, all slathered in olive oil and seasoned

To make maximum use of the oven while preheating to 400 degrees, pop the large wrapped beets in first, then put the other veggies on baking sheets to place on both racks. Roast up to one hour, turning over when necessary, and removing each type as it cooks to golden. Leave the large beets to finish cooking as the oven cools. When cooled, slip the skins off all the beets and cut into chunks.

Meanwhile, scrub the greens well, pat dry, chop, and sauté about three minutes in one tablespoon each of butter and olive oil. Serve everything on a large platter with your choice of bread for dipping in any drippings Small reserved cauliflower flowerlets make a nice fresh garnish. (All of these are fine to refrigerate and reheat during the week).

Bathe smaller berries in marshmallow vodka. It will also provided a colorful liqueur for bedtime. dip larger strawberries in melted chocolate. Serve with frozen yogurt.

Does Drinking Alcohol Affect Athletic Performance?

April 7, 2014

   Did you know that consuming alcohol after a workout, practice or competition can cancel out any physiological gains you may have received during your session. Not only does long term alcohol use diminish protein synthesis that results in a decrease in muscle build-up, short term alcohol use prevents muscle growth, which is one of the reasons we work out so hard.

   Now, I'm not saying you should become a teetotaler. I like wine tasting and here in Cambria we live in one of the world's great wine regions. But if you're trying to make progress — whether you're a walker or an elite athlete — it's wise to be judicious about alcohol consumption. We know a lot more about its effects on athletic performance today than we did back when Tour de France riders drank wine on their bikes during a race!

In view of Alcohol Awareness Month in April, here are some effects to be aware of on athletic performance when drinking alcohol:

Human Growth Hormone — To build bigger and stronger muscles our body needs sleep to repair itself after a workout. Because of alcohol's effect on sleep the body is robbed of HGH or human growth hormone. HGH is a part of the normal muscle building and repair process and the body's way of telling itself your muscles need to grow and get stronger. It can decrease this secretion by as much as 70 percent.

Testosterone — One thing that is essential for muscle development and recovery is testosterone. But alcohol triggers the production of a substance in your liver that is toxic to testosterone. And yes, testosterone is important for women too. According to Clif Arrington, of anti-agingmd.com based in Hawaii, says it can improve memory, boost energy, revive your interest in sex, and in general increase your entire sense of well being.

Dehydration and Muscle Cramps — Alcohol slows down the body's ability to heal itself. Alcohol is a toxin — toxins travel through our bloodstream to our body's organs and tissues. By the time you become severely dehydrated your body no longer has enough fluids to get blood to your organs. In extreme situations an individual can go into shock which can be life threatening. 

Vital Nutrients — Not only is alcohol lacking any nutritional value it also inhibits the absorption of thiamin (vitamin B1), vitamin B12, folic acid and zinc. Thiamin is essential to optimal performance. It plays an important role in metabolizing carbohydrates. Vitamin B12 helps maintain healthy red blood and nerve cells. Folic acid is involved in the formation of new cells. A lack of folic acid causes megoloblastic anemia which is a lowering of oxygen carrying capacity. This will effect one's endurance. Zinc is essential to your energy metabolic process.

Energy Source — Once absorbed through your stomach, small intestines and cells, it can can disrupt the water balance in muscle cells. This disruption changes their ability to produce ATP, adenosine triphosphate, which is your muscles’ source of energy. ATP provides the fuel needed  for muscle contraction.

   So given all this information I will conclude that, yes indeed, alcohol does affect athletic performance. And let's face it whether we are running our first 5k, powerwalk, marathon, triathalon or just trying to build muscle and stay healthy it can effect our ability to reach our goals. I truly believe that we are all athletes in our own way and the more information we have to figure out the best way we can achieve our goals the easier it is to make those decisions along the way.

American Heart Month: 14 Powerful Heart Healthy Foods

February 4, 2014

   By now it should be common knowledge that heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. All this month I will be sharing great ideas here on my blog and at my Facebook page on how to get fit and eat right for your heart.

   Here is a chart of 14 of the most powerful heart healthy foods you can eat which are easy to start including into a regular diet. There are other great foods, too, so when we made the chart we had to draw the line somewhere. There are two excellent websites to get more information at the American Heart Association and the Center for Disease Control. I encourage you to explore these sites for literally a wealth of life changing information.

L-Arginine: A Beneficial Supplement to Boost Energy and the Immune System

January 27, 2014

To be clear at the outset, I am not one to suggest taking a supplement without doing your due diligence. There is good information on the Internet to help you. But ultimately, I strongly encourage anyone who wants to try a supplement to consult their doctor first.

A couple of years ago when I was training for a marathon I found myself short on energy. I tried a change in diet. It helped but it wasn’t enough. Then I came across L-Arginine and read about its benefits. I talked with my doctor who told me the supplement would be okay. He said that people with heart conditions should not take L-Arginine and since heart disease is not prevalent in my family history I was given a green light.

It worked for me. I got the energy I needed to train for my marathon. Because L-Arginine is not good to take on a daily basis for long periods of time, I take it when I’m training or help to boost my immune system. But I also lay off of it for a month or two as well. I have a very middle ground attitude about supplements. I believe the evidence shows that vitamin and mineral supplements work, but I also think they aren’t magical. Additionally, a good diet should supply the core of a person’s nutritional needs.

L-Arginine Benefits

L-Arginine was first isolated in 1886 by Ernst Schultze, a Swiss chemist, from lupin seedlings. We now know it to be one of a number of common amino acids which are basic building blocks in the body. Early on it was discovered that it detoxified ammonia and aided in the making of creatine. 

The body needs L-Arginine to stimulate protein production. A healthy diet usually supplies plenty of it for basic nutrition from foods like dairy, fish, poultry and red meat. But in some circumstances that isn't enough and a supplement is needed.

As I wrote earlier, it helps to increase energy and bolster the immune system. Here’s a checklist of other benefits:

  • Stimulates release of insulin
  • Improves insulin sensitivity to aid in normalizing blood sugar
  • Helps improve blood flow to muscles
  • Stimulates growth hormones for anti aging
  • Addresses erectile dysfunction, high blood pressure and coronary artery disease

Restaurant Month: SLO and Cambria Serves Up Healthy Fare

January 13, 2014

   There used to be a time when a quality American sit-down restaurant meal was, at minimum, a large piece of meat in the center of the plate, a well-cooked vegetable, and an endless supply of bread rolls and butter. Afterward you would waddle home.

   But here in California during the 1970s that began to change. Alice Waters helped to shift our definition of a truly great restaurant dish toward fresh organic ingredients from locally sourced farmers, fishermen and ranchers. Maybe you've had the privilege of an evening at her world famous Chez Panisse in Berkeley.

   Today in San Luis Obispo County including Cambria we are in a foodie's paradise. There is fresh healthy fare wherever you look. And January is a great time to look. Happening now is the 7th Annual Restaurant Month in SLO and many wonderful restaurants are participating by serving 3-course dinners for only $30. I checked that price and found it hasn't changed since at least 2008. What a deal! You still have the rest of the month to check out most of the participating restaurants.

   A few of my old favorites are Thomas Hill Organics in Paso Robles, Big Sky Cafe in SLO, and Robin's Restaurant in Cambria. Shanny Covey who owns and runs Robin's feels it's her duty to serve to her guests fresh healthy foods which she gets from local markets. "Food has the most nutrients and most flavor when picked at it's prime," she told me. "Eating this way makes sense, who wouldn't want to eat the freshest produce available?"

   Shanny points out it's not a fad, it's a lifestyle. I agree and it's here to stay. She added, "In just the past three years I've noticed many more restaurants in SLO embracing this philosophy and it's refreshing. People have more healthy choices from fast foods to fine dining. As a consumer we can eat out and know that we are feeding our bodies well."

   If you're like me, there is probably a restaurant on the list you've been meaning to try. Mine is the Black Cat Bistro in Cambria which reopens this week from its holiday break. I'm looking forward to it! Yum. I love that they list the farmers who supply the ingredients for their menus.

   Click on these links: Robin's and Black Cat Bistro for menus being served as part of Restaurant Month.