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.


The HF Connection to Heart Health

February 17, 2014

   During this American Heart Month it's been good even for me to take a moment and consider my own health as I write these blogs and post to Facebook. I love finding a new recipe or a new angle on fitness to promote heart health. But there does come a time to be reminded of the reason for lifestyle changes and that is to avoid heart failure, the number one cause of death in the United States.

   I like Wikipedia's entry on heart failure and I quote the definition in the first paragraph which defines it pretty well:
"Heart failure or HF (often called congestive heart failure, CHF, or congestive cardiac failure, CCF) occurs when the heart is unable to provide sufficient pump action to maintain blood flow to meet the needs of the body. Heart failure can cause a number of symptoms including shortness of breath, leg swelling, and exercise intolerance. The condition is diagnosed with a physical examination by your physician and confirmed with an echocardiogram."
There are a number of causes of heart failure and here are the most common ones:
  • Coronary artery disease, a narrowing of the small blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart weakening the heart over time or suddenly

  • High blood pressure leading to problems with stiffness or eventually leading to the heart weakening

  • Heart valves that are leaky or narrowed
  • Infection that weakens the heart muscle
  • Congenital Heart Disease, the most common kind of heart birth defect

Here are a number of lifestyle changes that can make a difference to avoid heart failure:
  • Exercise. Heart healthy exercises include things like handcycling, rowing, walking, hiking, swimming, spinning, aerobics, Zumba, basketball, jump rope, stair or elliptical training, cross country skiing, Nordic walking, inline skating, cycling, etc. See your doctor and begin a program of exercising within your target heart rate.
  • Eat heart healthy foods. Vegetables and fruits are powerful allies in keeping your heart healthy.
  • Lower your salt intake. It can make a significant difference and I think it's the easiest change to make. Sodium helps the body to  hold excess fluid creating an added burden on the heart. The recommended daily allowance is 1500 mg daily. Purchasing fruits and vegetables at your local farmers market and cooking things yourself helps you control sodium intake.
  • Lower your sugar intake. There's a high degree of connection between too much sugar consumption and cardiovascular diseases. Careful choices about the processed foods you eat, sodas and desserts can make a big difference.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking increases blood pressure, decreases HDL (good cholesterol), decreases exercise tolerance and increases the tendency for blood to clot. Smoking also increases the risk of recurrent coronary heart disease after bypass surgery.
  • Cut down on alcohol. Heavy alcohol consumption has detrimental effects on blood pressure.

  • Lose weight. If you're overweight then weight loss can make it easier on your heart. Your heart pumps blood through your veins and arteries. Your lungs take in oxygen and send it to your blood. The stronger your heart is, the more easily it pumps more blood throughout your body. If your heart is weak it has to work harder to provide you with fresh blood and oxygen.

  • Lower your cholesterol. Like small tumors, plaques of cholesterol and other substances form in the artery walls and eventually the passageway for blood becomes clogged. Less blood flow means less oxygen for the heart muscle. Chest pain (angina) occurs, usually following exercise or excitement. When the blood supply is completely cut off, a part of the heart muscle dies—this is a heart attack.
  • Get plenty of rest. Our lives have become so busy and full that we forget to take time out to sit quietly and rest. And we often don't get enough sleep. Our hearts need time for rejuvenation. If we want it to last it needs to rest.

4 Motivation Tips to Achieve Your New Year's Resolutions

January 6, 2014

   The conventional wisdom seems to be that writing New Year's resolutions is a "fun" annual ritual of jotting down our personal wish lists -- but not to be taken too seriously because by February they will be forgotten. The reality is resolution-making is a powerful tool we can use to bring about healthy lifestyle changes.

   A study published in the journal Addictive Behaviors a couple of decades ago examined how successfully people achieved their New Year's resolutions. The top resolution, unsurprisingly, was weight loss cited by 38% of the study's participants. Smoking cessation was 2nd at 30%. Half of the people (55%) in the study dropped out after just one month. And it might be easy to assume the other half failed after two months. But that wasn't the case. Most of the remaining resolution makers (40%) were still on the path to their goals 6 months later! I like seeing the glass half full rather than half empty so I think that's remarkable.

   As a fitness trainer it tells me that making a New Year's resolution is a very worthwhile strategy. It's motivating to know, statistically, you have nearly a 50/50 chance of success right out of the gate. But I'd like to increase those odds so I asked a few experts for some tips to stay motivated throughout the year to fulfill your resolutions. Not every motivational technique will work for everyone. I hope one of these tips resonates with you.

[1] Pursue Small Easy-to-Fulfill Goals

   I find this very effective for my clients. Instead of trying to accomplish one big goal, break it down into a series of smaller ones. If you want to incorporate walking into your lifestyle, such as taking a 2-mile walk five times a week, don't start by forcing yourself to walk a mile every day. True, you might be able to do it but chances are you won't actually like it. It's better to begin by taking a 15 minute walk three days a week. In so doing, you will set yourself up to be successful. And nothing breeds success like achievement, each step of the way toward your larger goal.

[2] Take It One Day at a Time
- Trainer Jane Howard

   It's easy to think, "one day at a time... well, I already knew that." True, it's probably the oldest technique in the book. But if you really take it to heart, it's also one of the most powerful, which is why so many 12-step recovery programs have adopted it.

   Jane Howard is a fitness trainer in Cambria and she echoes this. "We all tend to become overwhelmed sometimes when the task at hand like losing weight or becoming fit can seem so large and looming over us," she told me. "This becomes too much for any of us. Stay with one day at a time. If you mess up, that’s okay, get back on track the next day. Don't beat yourself up. You are human!"

[3] Moderate Behaviors - Coach Dennis White

   You know when changes have really taken hold when they become a part of your lifestyle. That's when, for example, a bike ride is no longer just a planned exercise activity but something you look forward to for fun.

   Dennis White, who has coached Coast Union High School's volleyball team in Cambria, feels that moderation is a key way to evolve a change into becoming a part of your lifestyle. "If you're trying to cut calories," he offers (I love this one), "eat sandwiches with just one piece of bread." Do the math: if you eat five sandwiches a week, you'll avoid eating a loaf of bread each month without feeling deprived.

   A similar thing goes for alcohol. Limiting yourself to wine or beer on the weekends is a great way to cut out a lot of calories from your diet. And you can easily add some exercise to your day, too. The next time you go shopping, relish the availability of the open parking spaces further from the store and get a nice walk in. Dennis says it's for a good cause. "Taking care of ourselves will ensure we have an active retirement with minimal limitations. Good health will ensure quality time with our children and grandchildren."

[4] Minimize Distractions - Marlena Tanner, RD

   Sometimes it's not enough to get motivated, but rather tackle those things which can demotivate us. A busy schedule poses a major challenge for most people. Recently, I read about a woman who wanted to exercise in the morning but rarely did because in the first minutes of rising from bed, her head was quickly filled with an overwhelming list of things she had to do. So she started going to bed in her exercise clothes and woke up ready for her work out. Great idea!

   The media also can be a diversion. "In today's American culture we tend to get distracted by technology and by constant visual stimulus including the images of what we should look like or the things we should strive to own and achieve," says Marlena Tanner, a dietitian in Cambria who serves the Central Coast as well as guest lectures at Cal Poly. Whether it's buying into unrealistic images of what Madison Avenue says we should look like or having to be always-on for every email and tweet that comes our way, turning it down or even off can be surprisingly effective.

   "Taking care of our selves involves not only our physical, but also our mental, emotional and spiritual being. Becoming more connected to our own bodies will allow us to eat better, move more efficiently and understand our selves better."