What's the point of buying organic?

usdaThe term “organic” get’s a lot of use these days.  “Organic” is a buzz word in the fitness world, among health nuts, and in the media, but sometimes when trendy words get thrown around their meanings gets muddled.  This has been true of the word “organic,” especially since a study (which was sponsored by industrial food companies) claimed that organic foods aren’t any “healthier” than conventionally grown foods.  Hopefully I can clarify exactly what organic is and why it’s important to buy as many organic products as your budget can manage.

To start off with, the term “organic” when used on labels in the United States is tightly regulated by the USDA and a number of third party organic certification companies.  The standards for organic foods established by the USDA are as follows:

  • Organic farming should integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity
  • Genetic engineering (GMOs) is not allowed
  • Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, or irradiation may not be used
  • Hormones and anti-biotics must not be use
  • Prohibited chemical pesticides cannot be used

Secondly, while organic foods don’t always contain  higher densities of nutrients than conventionally grown foods, they often do.  For example, organic milk, which comes from cows that have access to pastureland and grass, contains large amounts of the healthy fat CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) and vitamin K2, which aren’t found in conventional dairy products.  Since organic foods tend to be raised with methods that are closer to what’s found in nature, the result is healthier, more life-giving food.

Also, one of the most important considerations when choosing to buy organic foods isn’t just what organic foods provide but what they don’t provide!  Unlike make of the fruits and vegetables that are sold in grocery stores, organic produce doesn’t contain any toxic pesticide residues!  Some of the most popular foods, such as apples, are the highest in pesticides.  With the rates of cancer increasing every year, it’s important to know and consider what we are feeding our families and putting in our bodies.

Finally, organic food is more sustainable and better for God’s creation, including people, plants, and animals.  I like to say, “What’s good for us is good for the environment.” Why? Because we are part of the creation; we are “creatures” as it were, therefore we are intimately linked to all of the natural biological process in the world.  We can’t continue to pretend like we live in a bubble.  When we put pesticides and chemical fertilizers on plants, not only are we at risk of ingesting their residues, these chemicals also get washed into water systems, destroying ecosystems, and eventually making the earth a less habitable place for all creatures (including us).

Buying organic foods isn’t going to fix all the problems with our food system, that’s for sure, but it is definitely  a great way to contribute.  It’s actually somewhat ridiculous that we even have to call organic foods “organic” or come up with all these standards.  Organic food is basically just normal food, the way it’s found in God’s creation, free of all the chemicals and industrial processes of man. Organic food is good food!*

*As a quick side note, just because something is organic doesn’t mean it’s healthy.  For example, there are all kinds of organic processed foods out there: candy, pastries, and other treats.  So, when you buy organic, just be sure to buy organic whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, dairy, and meat! Organic foods can be found at a growing number of grocery stores and farmer’s markets!  There are also foods that are not yet certified organic that meet all the qualifications of real food, so meet your local farmers and find out what they have to offer.

Originally posted 2013-06-11 20:29:04.

Take Your Athletic Performance to the Next Level with Visualization

Mountain bike, lake tahoeWhile it seems paradoxical that in a society filled with so many images our ability to visualize or imagine is suffering, looking at images instead of actively recreating images in the “mind’s eye” is an entire different mental process.  Watching a stream of images on a TV or smart phone actually disrupts the mind’s ability to think or creatively imagine.  The damage audio-video technology has done to our imagination as a culture is truly a tragic affair.

Without a vibrant imagination it’s difficult (if not impossible) to engage in creative goal setting, which is one of the most important skills for achieving success in relationships, business, and athletics.  Visualization is one of those skills that few people practice and even fewer master.  Among those that do use visualization, however, include titans of industry, famous inventors, and world class athletes.  Researchers have been studying psychological visualization for the last 100 years, and the conclusion of their studies is that mentally practicing a physical skill results in significant improvements in that skill compared to physical practice alone.  The complexities of how visualization can improve real skills aren’t exactly known, but it’s thought that the autonomic nervous system responds similarly to both imagination and real life experiences.  Imagination can therefore help reinforce the neuro pathways and reflexes that correspond to the goals one is seeking to achieve.

The key components of visualization are similar whether applied to sports, public speaking, or business, but to make the most of visualization for fitness and athletic performance here are a few key considerations:

  • Remember that visualization takes mental effort.  The brain consumes a lot of energy and imagination takes focus, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t have much “mental endurance” at first.  Just as with the physical activities, “practice makes perfect.”
  • The more specific and realistic your visualizations, the more effective they’ll be.  Try and imagine every detail of the environment and movements that relate to the skill you are seeking to improve.  What are your body mechanics?  What does the terrain feel like?  What kind of equipment are you using?  How quickly will the action take place?  At first you might need to start with only a few details, but with practice you’ll be able to add more elements.
  • Set aside at least three times per week for visualization.  Find a place you can focus, relax, and get in a positive space, then fully engage your creative imagination in order to make improvements in your target skill! A visualization session may take anywhere between 5 minutes and a half an hour.

The great thing about using visualization to improve athletic performance is that it can also be done during otherwise wasted time, such as during an airplane flight, a road trip, or a wait at the DMV.  With visualization, what were once mundane activities that ate away at precious training time can become opportunities to make even greater gains!

The take away: set your mind on the specific athletic or fitness goals you want to accomplish, then imagine yourself accomplishing these goals.  If you do so consistently and with detailed imagination, you will see improvement!

References: AASP – Sport Imagery Training, Vanderbilt – Mental Imagery

Originally posted 2013-06-11 02:10:46.

Tips for Vacationing on a Budget

Italy-traveling-on-a-budgetFor many of us, taking at least one vacation per year is a necessary reprieve.  The time to rest from our work and literally “vacate” our usual occupations is essential for our mental health and state of being!  While it can be easy to spend thousands of dollars on a luxury vacation, booking a refreshing trip to relax and enjoy God’s creation doesn’t have to break the bank.  It’s pointless to stress your personal finances to take a trip that’s supposed to be relaxing, especially when doing so will only create more stress later on.  There are a number of ways to go on an awesome vacation with a minimal amount of cash; here are a few strategies that have worked for me and my wife:

Go on a “staycation.” Plane tickets, car rentals, or gas can add a lot of expense to a vacation.  Save money by going on a vacation that’s nearby. Stay in your local area (within few hours driving distance) and explore places you haven’t been before.  I often talk to people who have never visited the great sites in their own back yards.  Chances are there are people who travel to your state for vacation; find out what they’re looking at.  You might be surprised by what you discover!

Find hotel alternatives.  Hotel prices seems like they are going up and up these days, especially in highly traveled areas.  The good news is that there are a number of new “people to people” websites that make affordable vacation rentals easy to find.  Instead of paying exorbitant amounts for well known hotels in prime locations, give a vacation rental a try.  Many privately owned vacations rentals offer special amenities and are located in scenic areas that can’t be matched by large hotels (and at a fraction of the price).  Here are the sites to check out: airbnb and VRBO

Make your own food! Eating out for most of your meals can add up really quick, so find a vacation rental or hotel with a kitchen or kitchenette   Stock up with all the food you need for your trip at the beginning of the week, and you’ll be set!  Buying groceries and making your own meals will save you a lot of cheese, even if you buy a few gourmet groceries to help you really get in the vacation mode.  To get more of the local experience, shop at a farmers market and meet a few of the natives.  You might even get a few insider tips about what to do in the area.

What’s included? When considering the price of where you’re staying, carefully examine all the amenities.  For example, if a hotel you’re looking at includes a gourmet breakfast, that could be anywhere from a $10 to $30 value per person.  As previously mentioned, it might also be worth spending a little extra on a place that has a kitchenette, since you’ll ultimately save money on food costs.

Go with friends! Traveling with friends is probably one of the best ways to save money, especially if you’re traveling overseas.  You can potentially split the cost of a place to stay, groceries, and a rental car.  You might even be able to get group discounts on admissions tickets and passes.  Plus traveling with friends is just a lot of fun and provides a great bonding experience!

Plan and book ahead. Planning is a big money saver and can make your trip far more enjoyable.  If you set a budget for your trip and schedule what you want to do and how many times you plan on eating out, then you can enjoy your itinerary without worrying about spending too much money.  Also, by booking ahead (about three months) you can save money on flights and rental cars.

Travel in the off-season. Peak season is almost always more expensive for traveling, so try and vacation when everyone else is staying home.  Summer is often the most expensive time to travel, but the weather is usually still beautiful near the end of spring or at the beginning of fall.  In addition to saving money, you’ll also beat the crowds!

Travel light. By taking as few bags as possible, not only will you save money on baggage fees, you’ll also be able to rent a more affordable car, since you won’t need a ton of space to store your stuff.

Sign up for a frequent flyer miles credit card. This tip has really paid off for us.  Choose a frequently flyer mile card that will earn you miles for an airline that flys where you most often like to go on vacation, then use your card for as many expenses that you can!  Just be sure to pay it off every month; you won’t be saving any money if you have to pay interest on payments you didn’t have cash for!  If you own your own business or work for an employer that reimburses you for expenses, then you mileage points will add up even faster.

These tips have helped us save a ton of money during or travels and allowed us to go on more vacations than we would’ve been able to otherwise.  If you have any tips for vacationing on a budget that I missed, please share them in the comment section below!

Photo Credit: Andy Langeland

Originally posted 2013-06-08 17:54:38.

Harness the Power of the Squat!

squatweightsIf you’re not squatting, either your bodyweight or free weights, you should be!  It doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or woman, elderly or young, squats are one of the single most effective workouts for activating the major muscle groups, developing core strength, burning calories, building bone density, and promoting flexibility.  If you’re new to squatting, then start out by squatting your bodyweight for a couple of weeks, doing 3 sets of 20 squats everyday.  Then, depending on your health and fitness level, try squatting with a large staff or an olympic bar without any extra weights on loaded.  If you’re a more advanced weekend warrior or athlete and squats aren’t in your current workout repertoire, then it’s time to add them!  There’s no faster or more effective way to improve your athleticism and strength.

Squats activate the body’s central nervous system and promote a muscle building, restorative state. Squats build the muscles of the buttocks, hips, thighs, trunk, lower back, shoulders, and arms.  They also help strengthen ligaments and tendons in the legs. People often worry about injuring their knees by performing squats, but when performed correctly, squats will actually strengthen the knees and protect them from future injuries.

Free Weight  Squat Technique: 

  • Be sure to use a squat rack that will catch your weights in the event that they are too heavy to lift back up
  • Load the olympic weight bar low on your upper back, with your hands gripping the bar about shoulder width apart
  • With the proper technique there’s no need to use a bar pad
  •  The bar will rest somewhere just above your shoulder blades
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together and be sure that the bar is centered and balanced.
  • After un-racking the weight, take a couple step BACKWARDS (dont’ load the weight so that you are walking forward)
  • You’re back will be straight but leaning slightly forward as you squat
  • Go down until your hip joints are just below your knees, then rapidly stand up
  • Look forward
  • Don’t lock your knees

For a great explanation of how to squat, watch the video below by StrongLifts:

 

 

Originally posted 2013-06-08 00:42:44.

Is cholesterol unhealthy? A second look.

Eggs frying in oilCholesterol – it’s a very dirty, scary word in our culture.  Why?  Because so many people die every year from heart disease, which is largely blamed on dietary fat and cholesterol.  But there are quite a few misunderstandings about cholesterol and its role in health and disease. In this article I’m going to explain why we need cholesterol for health, why dietary cholesterol isn’t harmful, and why, if these things are true, high cholesterol is often associated with heart disease.

First of all, cholesterol is essential for optimum health and has numerous functions in the body.  Over 35,000 mg of cholesterol can be found in the average human body at any give time.  Most of that amount is found in the cell membranes, where it serves as an important structural component.  Cells need cholesterol to maintain the permeability that allows nutrients to nourish the cells.  Cholesterol is also the structural precursor for steroid hormones, such as testosterone, estrogen, and cortisol, all of which are crucial for proper metabolism and reproductive health.  Additionally, cholesterol is needed in order to produce one of the body’s most important vitamins, vitamin D.  Then there’s bile production (bile is essential for the digestion of fats) — it too depends on cholesterol.  The immune system is also strengthened by cholesterol.  And, finally, cholesterol is an essential component of myelin, which forms the protective sheaths around neurons, allowing the central nervous system to function properly!  Moral of the story: we need cholesterol!

If cholesterol has so many health benefits, then why is it associated with cardiovascular disease?  Well, a growing body of evidence is starting to reveal the answer.  Initially researchers noticed a correlation between cholesterol levels, especially high LDL cholesterol, and incidence of heart disease.  Then, as is so often the case in the realm of medicine, dietary cholesterol was demonized without an understanding of all the other factors at play.  We now know that dietary cholesterol actually has a very minimal effect on blood cholesterol levels, if any, and that saturated fats, in and of themselves, don’t cause elevated cholesterol levels either.  In fact, the body is highly efficient at maintaining cholesterol levels and will actually decrease it’s own production of cholesterol when cholesterol is obtained from diet.

While LDL undoubtedly has a role in atherosclerosis, few people seem to known what LDL is or that there are actually different types of LDL.  Not all LDL is created equal.  In a nutshell, LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein) is basically a protein shuttle that carries cholesterol to the cells. The cells then use the cholesterol to repair the themselves or produce hormones.  LDL levels are known to rise as a result of mental stress (stress drains the body of stress hormones that are cholesterol-based), physical injury, smoking (which causes injury to the cells), and overeating.  LDL levels can also be elevated as a result of a genetic predisposition to having fewer LDL receptors.  If there aren’t enough receptors on the cells, then the LDL continues circulating in the blood stream where it can eventually lodge into the arteries and promote arterial plaque.

It’s important to reiterate that LDL, in and of itself, isn’t unhealthy.  In a way, a high ratio of LDL to HDL is merely a sign that the body is undergoing some form of stress that needs to be remedied.  Targeting LDL is kind of like removing the warning signal  instead of fixing the actual problem.  LDL is important because it provides nourishment to the cells, but there are two factors that can make LDL particularly problematic: particle size and oxidation.

A high carbohydrate diet, particularly one that’s  high in fructose and refined sugar, can caused the body to produce a certain type of LDL called Small Dense LDL.  These LDL particles are smaller and denser than they should be, which makes them more prone to lodging themselves in artery cell walls and initiating the first stages of atherosclerosis and heart disease.  A whole-food based diet, however, that’s higher in healthy fats, causes the body to produce larger, fluffier LDL particles that don’t damage the arteries as easily.

Perhaps even more dangerous than Small Dense LDL particles are oxidized LDL particles. Several recent studies have found a direct correlation between the amount of LDL oxidation in circulation and an increased risk for cardiovascular disease.  Oxidized LDL is basically a damaged, unstable LDL molecule that is absorbed by the arteries’ immune cells in self-defense.  When oxidized LDL is absorbed by these cells (called macrophages) foam cells can form that bulge and lead to atherosclerosis.

So what causes oxidized LDL?  There are several potential culprits, for one, a diet high in polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs).  PUFAs (found in refined seed oils like corn, canola, and soybean oil) are unstable and prone to damage.  When these types of fats are digested, they’re used for building LDL particles; in turn, these LDL particles are prone to oxidation.  Saturated and monounsaturated fats, by contrast, (butter and olive oil) are much less prone to oxidation and, therefore, result in LDL that is resistant to oxidation.

Inadequate supplies of antioxidants, especially Co-enzyme Q10 and vitamin E, can also lead to excess oxidized LDL.  Coenzyme q10 is specially manufactured by the body to protect LDL and HDL cholesterol from damage, but in order to produce it, the body needs plenty of b-vitamins.  Coenzyme q10 can also be obtained from grass-fed beef (especially the liver) and from dietary supplements.  Studies indicate that supplemental co-enzyme q-10 does have a cardioprotective role and can protect LDL from oxidation.  Vitamin E is another important fat-soluble antioxidant for protecting lipoproteins, but it works best in the presences of co-enzyme q-10.  There are also a number of polyphenols from plants that have the ability to protect against oxidation, as well as increase the number of LDL receptors (which means there are more “nets” to remove LDL from the blood stream).  Some of these polyphenols include EGCG from green tea, resveratrol from red wine, and quercetin, which is found in onions, apples, and berries.

The Take Away: Our bodies absolutely depend on cholesterol for health.  While, in certain cases, cholesterol can contribute to heart disease, dietary cholesterol isn’t the problem.  The quality of cholesterol the body produces is more relevant than the quantity.  Healthy cholesterol depends on eating the right kinds of oils (monounsaturated and saturated fats found in natural products like butter, olive oil, and coconut oil), grass-fed meats, and plenty of leafy greens that are high in fat-soluble anti-oxidants.  High LDL levels may require a dietary and/or lifestyle change, including stress reduction.  Some people are also genetically predisposed to having higher LDL levels, in which case it’s especially important to prevent LDL particles from becoming oxidized by eating a creation-based diet.

References: Dietary Cholesterol Reduces Endogenous Production, The Role of Oxidized LDL in Atherosclerosis, Is Dietary Cholesterol as Bad for You as History Leads us to Believe?, Regulation of LDL by Carbohydrates, Small Dense LDL and Atherosclerosis, Association of Circulating Oxidized LDL with Heart Disease, Effects of Co-enzyme q10 on Oxidized LDL in Vitro, Cardioprotective Effects of Dietary Polyphenols, Consumption of Fructose and HFCS Increase LDL, Green Tea Upregulates LDL Receptors

 

Originally posted 2013-06-04 17:33:00.

DIY After-Sun Antioxidant Spray

After reading about the benefits of applying green tea and antioxidant vitamins to the skin after exposure to UV rays, I decided to devise my own aftersun (or anytime) antioxidant spray. I’ve been using my custom green tea/vitamin c/vitamin e blend for several months now and it works great!  Even though I rarely get burned, every once in a while I overdo it a bit and get pink.  When this happens, I always spray on liberal amounts of my antioxidant solution, and it provides quick recovery from my burn!  Of course, I spray it on whether I get sunburned or not, because I want to give my skin all the nutrition I can.

The reason I chose to use green tea and vitamins e and c in my solution is that they all provide researched benefits. Several studies, looking at both rat and human skin, found that after exposure to the sun or artificial UV rays, topically applied green tea reduces inflammation and can even reduce the incidence of skin cancer.  Green tea contains powerful polyphenols that protect green tea plants from UV damage and provide a number of benefits to humans as well.

Other plants use vitamin C and Vitamin E to protect their cells from UV damage.  One study using a vitamin C and Vitamin E solution found that when applied to the skin daily, it provided progressive protection from sunburn and UV damage.

With all these benefits, it’s surprising that there aren’t many antioxidant sprays out there.  Thankfully, it’s easy to make an antioxidant solution at home.

Here’s what you’ll need: an 8 oz spray bottle, vitamin C powder, green tea, water, and liquid vitamin E.

Directions:

  • blendinggreenteaFirst brew an extra potent cup of green tea (with about 7 oz of water).  Use 4 tea bags of green tea or 8 grams of loose green tea. Steep in hot water for about four minutes, then drain.  You can also grind the green tea extremely finely with a coffee grinder, shake it with 7 oz of warm water and then filter the water with a french press.
  • Pour the green tea solution into your spray bottle.
  • Grind 4 grams of vitamin C into very fine powder using a coffee grinder (i’ve used both tablets and powder – powder works best), then add to the spray bottle.
  • Add a teaspoon of Liquid vitamin E to your spray bottle.
  • After all the ingredients are added, shake the spray bottle vigorously to mix
  • Use liberally every day, especially after exposure to the sunshine!

Recommended products:

Sources: Vitamin C and Vitamin E Solution, Topical Application of Green Tea

Originally posted 2013-06-02 02:57:29.

Join the push lawn mower revolution!

advantages, pros, cons, reasons to own a push reel lawn mower, reviews, great states

Spring is here and summer is on the way. With all the sun the grass is growing faster, so it’s time to bust out the lawn mower more often.  The old school thought is that “more power” is better, which is what made the gas-powered lawn mower so popular.  But in my opinion, the next best thing to owning a goat is owning a push-lawnmower!

When I was a young boy, I remember mowing my great-grandmother’s lawn with what seemed like an antique (and it probably was) mowing device.  Even as a kid I thought it was fun to use – afterall, I was the one powering those fast spinning blades, and there was some reward in that.  I wondered, “Why doesn’t my dad have one of these?”  Well, it seems that these days a lot of people are going back to the simplicity and practical advantages of using a push lawn mower.

Here are a few of the advantages:

More exercise: Pushing a push-reel lawn mower engages the legs and core muscles a little more than pushing a gas-powered mower, so it strengthens the muscles and burns a few more calories.  Score!

Quiet to use: There’s no obnoxious motor, so all you hear is the smooth sound of grass being clipped.  This means that you can mow the lawn at any time!  Get outside when it’s too hot, and you won’t have to worry about waking or bothering your neighbors.

Fewer allergens: Since push reel lawn mowers aren’t high powered and don’t have a blade that spins like a helicopter rotor,  they don’t kick up nearly as much dust or allergen particles as a gas-powered mower. This is great news for all allergy sufferers.

Economical: Push law mowers are more affordable than gas-powered mowers, and they’re a lot cheaper to work on.  The blades can be adjusted and sharpened at home, and there’s very little that can go wrong with them.  You’ll also save money by not having to buy gas or oil. An added bonus is that push mowers save space and  are easier to store.

Better for you and the environment: Push reel lawn mowers are powered by clean energy – you!  The more we can minimized our petroleum use, the better.  With a push lawn mower, you won’t have to worry about breathing in gas fumes or spilling any petroleum products in your yard.  Not to mention, you won’t have to make any annoying trips to the gas station to refill your gas can!

A push reel lawn mower is truly a great investment; it’s cheaper than a gas mower, and you’ll reap a number of priceless benefits. Be part of re-making the American experience: take your shirt off, enjoy the sunshine, get some exercise while mowing your lawn, and save a little money in the process!

Recommended Products:

Originally posted 2013-06-02 00:59:35.

Are you addicted to sugar?

Glass of CokeDo you find yourself trying to avoid sugary foods for most of the day but then end up bingeing on a king size candy bar or a 32 oz soda? Maybe you go a couple of days without eating sugar, but then you “treat” yourself to a big dessert or some donuts?  Perhaps you’ve managed to cut back on sugar for a while, but you’ve noticed that you’re drinking more beer or wine instead.

If any of these scenarios ring a bell, you might have symptoms of what could be legitimately termed a sugar “addiction” or “dependency.”

Also, if you went without sugar for a while and started to feel depressed, anxious, moody or sleepy, and were able to relieve these symptoms by eating sugary foods, this could indicate a serotonin disruption caused by bouts of excess sugar intake.

While the use of the term “addiction” in regards to food is somewhat controversial, recent studies with rats found that the bingeing behavior associated with drugs looks neurologically similar to that seen with bingeing on sugar.  Like recreational drugs, excess sugar intake can cause an increase in the release of dopamine, triggering the brain’s pleasure center.  The repeated flooding of dopamine results in a desensitization of dopamine receptors, creating a need for more sugar or some other dopamine activating stimulant.

Based on the correlation between increased refined sugar consumption and higher rates of obesity (and in light of studies on sugar addiction using rats), many researchers are starting to believe that obesity may be connected to food/sugar addiction.  Fructose in particular might be an especially significant cause of weight gain and “sugar dependence” as it’s extremely sweet and doesn’t provide the feeling of satiety that glucose and sucrose do.

If you think you might have an addiction to sugar (recognizing it is the first step!), the best thing to do is to start reducing your sugar consumption.  When you get a craving, eat a highly nutritious meal rich in protein, healthy fats, and some glucose instead.  Eating good food, getting sunshine, and exercising can all help balance the body’ dopamine and serotonin levels and promote an overall sense of wellness.

References: Sugar and Fat Have Noticeable Differences in Addictive-like Behavior, Evidence For Sugar Addiction

Originally posted 2013-05-24 23:21:47.

Benefits of Beta Glucan (found in oats, mushrooms, and yeast)

Portabella MushroomBeta glucan is a powerful little fiber molecule that has several potential health benefits.  A fiber is anything that the body can’t fully digest and, therefore, passes through the digestive system.  There a many different types of fiber, and some fibers, like beta glucan, stand above the rest.

Beta-glucan is a type of sugar (called a polysaccharide) that is molecularly arranged in such a way that it’s indigestible.   There are basically two different classes of beta glucan: the insoluble kind that activate the digestive tract’s immune cells, and the soluble kind that absorb water and help remove excess cholesterol.

Beta Glucan In Oats and Barley (Grains)

Oats and barley are particularly high in soluble beta glucans, and studies have found that regular consumption of oatmeal or supplementation with grain-derived beta-glucan may help lower LDL cholesterol levels.  Beta-gluacan’s effectiveness, however, is not consistent and is affected by a number of variables.   The amount of oatmeal that was found to help lower cholesterol was 84 grams per day.  Supplemental doses of beta-glucan ranged from 3-9 grams per day.  Other studies indicate that beta-glucan may also help improve blood-sugar levels and perhaps enhance endurance capabilities.

Beta Glucan in Yeast and Mushrooms (Funguses) 

Both mushrooms and yeast are high in insoluble beta glucan.  Some of the best mushroom sources of beta glucan are common white mushrooms, crimini, and shitake.  The primary yeast source of beta glucan is baker’s yeast.  The beta glucan in mushrooms and yeast demonstrates strong immunomodulating effects.  In other words, it activates the body’s immune system, which makes sense given mushrooms’ reputation for boosting the immune system.  Studies have found the beta glucan from funguses activate powerful immune system responses like an increase in white blood cell and killer-t cell activity.  A growing number of studies (though still small) indicate that this activity may help the body fight against cancer cells and viral/bacterial infections. 

While the beta glucan in funguses stimulates specific immune responses, it simultaneously suppresses the body’ non-specific immune responses, like the release of superoxide anion and hydrogen peroxide.  There’s evidence that beta-glucan’s suppression of non-specific inflammatory responses can help reduce the symptoms of common respiratory allergies.

The take away: While the best way to lower LDL cholesterol is to reduce stress, exercise, and eat plenty of greens, eating a little bit of oatmeal everyday might not be a bad idea.  Also, even good old common mushrooms have powerful immune-boosting properties, so eat them up!  They’re affordable and add great flavor to a number of dishes.

Recommended Products:

References: Oats and Anti-fatigue, Beta-Glucan’s Effect on Glycemic Index, Biomedical Issues of Dietary Fiber Beta-Glucan, The Application of Beta-Glucan for the Treatment of Colon Cancer, Glucans Inhibit Allergic Airway Inflammation

Originally posted 2013-05-24 00:02:42.

Beet Root Juice for Increased Endurance and Health

We Got the BeetMaybe, with his love for beets, Dwight was on to something after all.  While, I might not go out and start a beet farm, it turns out that beet juice can provide increased athletic endurance.  Apparently it’s the juice’s nitrate content that’s responsible for the benefit.  Although the exact mechanism isn’t known, it’s thought that the nitrates help improve energy efficiency in the muscles.  Another benefit of beet juice is that it can help lower systolic blood pressure by relaxing the blood vessels.

The benefits of drinking beet juice are dose dependent, with the best results obtained by consuming 240 to 500 ml of beet root juice approximately 2 hours before exercising.  One study found that consuming beet juice extended time to failure by 14%!

Recommended Products:

References: Beet Root Juice and Exercise (PubMed) and A Toast to Health and Performance (Journal of Applied Physiology)

Originally posted 2013-05-22 22:26:41.