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    News

    12 Ways We Sabotage Our Mental Health

    The Magic of Self-Delusion

     

    Read enough books or websites that claim to have the secret to how to eat (for weight loss or simply for good health) and you’ll feel like you have whiplash. That’s because the truth is nowhere and everywhere.  Ask yourself these questions (and answer them honestly, of course):

    • Do you eat at least five servings of vegetables and fruits a day? (More vegetables than fruit is best.)
    • Are most of your meals and snacks either prepared at home from scratch, or composed of one-ingredient foods like a piece of fruit with some almonds?
    • Do you participate in enjoyable physical activity for at least 30 minutes, five days a week?
    • Do you have healthy outlets for relieving stress? (i.e., not involving food, drugs, alcohol, or screaming at your kids/pets/partner/strangers.)
    • Do you get at least 7 hours of sleep most nights…and wake feeling rested?
    • Do you have any health concerns that you could be caring for with nutrition and physical activity, such as diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, but aren’t (or don’t know how to)?

    Self-Assessment and Next Steps

    If you answered “no” to any of these questions, your habits have room for improvement.

    If you have health problems in which nutrition and physical activity play a role, I suggest talking to your doctor and getting a referral to a registered dietitian nutritionist, stat. However, if you are free of major health concerns but want to feel your best, then any eating plan that includes a variety of healthy foods and meets your body’s energy needs will help you maintain—or enhance—your health and vitality will work. True, it’s not always easy to change your eating habits, but you still have a lot of freedom.

    A Two-Step, No-Nonsense Plan to Better Health

    If you examine the must successful eating plans, the ones that have been shown to promote for good health, they may seem very different on the surface. But most of them are in fact very similar at their core. They will pretty much have these two points in common:

    1. Eat lots of vegetables and fruits. Vegetables have priority. Fresh or frozen is best.
    2. Eat only very small amounts (if at all) of foods that are high in sugar, or other highly processed foods (white flour, fast food, junk food, foods with ingredients that you need a science degree to decipher). Avoid foods with trans fats (hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils) at all costs.

    From there, you will find different recommendations about the higher-calorie but healthy foods like meat, poultry, whole grains, milk and other dairy, healthy fats (nuts, avocados, olives, olive and nut oils), legumes (beans).

    Stop the Self-Delusion

    This is a solid starting point, but I see so many people who have failure to launch: They don’t get started with adding more veggies and cutting back on the uber-processed foods because they are perpetually searching for a magic bullet, perpetually being seduced by diet gurus (and there are more and more of them on the internet lately, with their e-newsletters and webinars) who claim that they have the secret to weight loss, fat loss, better health or whatnot. The only secret is that if their claims were true, legitimate nutrition researchers would be all over it and it wouldn’t BE a secret.

    Getting Off the Ground

    If you eat lots of veggies at lunch and dinner, include some fruit, and limit the food that’s lacking in nutritional value to a tiny part of your diet, you can round out the rest of your calories by plucking from the many types of healthy carbohydrates, proteins and fats as you see fit. Some people feel better when they eat more protein, other people feel best with more whole grains. Some people thrive on a vegetarian diet, others need animal protein.

    If you feel irritable, shaky, heavy, bloated, tired or hungry after a meal, then you may need to take a hard look at whether your meals are carb heavy or protein heavy, and experiment with shifting them the other way.

    Here’s The Bottom Line

    For the vast majority of people, eating more vegetables, fewer nutrient-poor foods and upping their time spent in at least light physical activity will result in improved health, and possibly weight loss (if that’s a priority). Very few people have some physical/genetic/hormonal issue that stands between them and a healthy weight. Very few. Yes, you may have to find ways to deal with cravings and occasional hunger, but that has much more to do with motivation, preparation and external eating cues (parties, donuts in the break room, popcorn at the movies).

    By Carrie Dennett, MPH, RDN, CD

     

    Myths About Carbs

    There was a time when fat was the most-maligned macronutrient. Now, carbohydrates seem to be nutrition public enemy No. 1. From the Atkins diet and the South Beach Diet toGrain Brain and Wheat Belly, carbs are getting a bad rap. And while some carbs, such as fruits and vegetables, get a thumbs up from Paleo proponents, grains, dairy, and legumes are considered a no-no. Is this fear of carbs really warranted? According to nutrition research, the answer is a qualified no.

     

     

    As dietitians know from Nutrition 101, carbohydrates come from plants, and many plant foods are rich in the vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and fiber that are vital to good health. Research shows that Mediterranean-style and other plant-based diets with high fiber content and low glycemic load have a beneficial effect on glucose metabolism, whereas dietary patterns high in meat are associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.1

    Although grains may be the most controversial carb, results of several studies suggest whole grains, but not refined grains, are protective against type 2 diabetes.2 The intact nutrients and fiber in whole grains, together with their lower glycemic index and glycemic load, may improve insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism, while refined grains are lower in fiber and nutrients and have a higher glycemic index or glycemic load.2 This supports recommendations in the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans that at least one-half of all grain intake should come from whole grains.2,3 Glycemic index is a measure of how the carbohydrate in a specific food raises blood sugar; glycemic load is based on how much of that food's carbohydrate is eaten.

    David Jenkins, MD, PhD, DSc, Canada research chair of nutrition and metabolism in the University of Toronto's department of nutritional sciences, and developer of the glycemic index,4 says that bread and pasta can be healthful carbohydrate sources if the pasta is cooked al dente and the bread is very dense, unsweetened, and packed with intact grains.

    Cereal, or grain, fiber is associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease (CVD).2,5 Analysis of data from the Nurses' Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study found that higher whole grain intake was associated with reduced mortality, especially deaths due to CVD.6 These results were independent of other demographic and lifestyle predictors of mortality, including overall dietary quality. Similarly, results from the prospective NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study, which followed 367,442 individuals for 14 years, found that intake of whole grains was associated with a lower risk of death from all causes.7 Furthermore, whole grains contribute to intestinal health and a healthy weight.

    In spite of this research, carb-phobia, especially grain-phobia and fruit-phobia, persists. That's unfortunate, because fruits, whole grains, and many other carbohydrate-rich foods, including legumes and starchy vegetables, offer good nutrition as well as pleasure. Following are the top 10 myths that get in the way of many people consuming carbohydrates.

    Myth 1: Only Breads and Grains Contain Carbs
    One irony about carb-phobia is many people can't accurately define what it is they're afraid of. Mandy Unanski Enright, MS, RDN, RYT, owner of Nutrition Nuptials in Red Bank, New Jersey, says that when she asks clients what type of foods contain carbs, they always respond with bread, pasta, and rice. "So this takes some educating that most plant-based foods contain carbs to some extent, along with milk products. And all are important for a healthful diet."

    "I don't think most people realize that fruits and vegetables are carbs," says Lainey Younkin, MS, RD, LDN, owner of Lainey Younkin Nutrition in Boston. "I always find it interesting and funny when someone wants to cut out carbs but wants to eat healthfully. I'm like, 'Do you know that fruits and vegetables are carbs?' When they think carbs, they're thinking about bread, pasta, and rice. So I always clarify between healthful carbs—ones that are high in fiber and low in sugar—and not-so-healthful carbs."

    Myth 2: Carbs Are Fattening
    Several studies have found that whole grain intake is associated with a reduced risk of weight gain,2,8,9 and similar associations have been observed between fruit intake and weight,8,10,11 provided that calorie needs aren't exceeded.12 But that's not what sells diet books.

    "I have many clients who tell me that they don't eat carbs because they are 'fattening,'" says Lindsey Pine, MS, RDN, CSSD, CLT, Los Angeles-based owner of TastyBalanceNutrition.com. "However, when we discuss their food logs, there are carbs all over the place—bananas and other fruit, oatmeal, protein bars, etc. They think they aren't eating carbs when in fact they don't know what a carb is in the first place."

    While many studies have found low-carb diets to be more effective for weight loss than low-fat diets in the short term, in longer-term follow-up both approaches produce modest weight loss at best.13,14 Kathy McManus, MS, RD, LDN, director of nutrition at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and one of the investigators for the Preventing Overweight Using Novel Dietary Strategies (POUNDS LOST) study, says that calories matter more than macronutrient ratios. The POUNDS LOST study examined the effects of four heart-healthy diets varying in fat, protein, and carbohydrate composition on weight loss and long-term maintenance.15

    "The POUNDS LOST trial showed that reduced-calorie diets result in clinically meaningful weight loss regardless of which macronutrient they emphasize," she says. "This means that we can individualize healthful meal patterns based on cultural and personal preferences to support weight loss. Individualized plans can help with sustaining long-term adherence."

    David Ludwig, MD, PhD, a professor in the department of nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children's Hospital, and author of Always Hungry? Conquer Cravings, Retrain Your Fat Cells, and Lose Weight Permanently, says that while a low-fat diet high in processed carbohydrates can program the body for excessive weight gain, a diet with moderate amounts of minimally processed carbohydrates, along with healthful fats, does not.

    Myth 3: All White Foods Are Unhealthful
    "The most common comment I get is 'All white food is bad,' or 'My doctor told me to stay away from anything white,' or even better: 'Those white foods will kill you,'" says Erin McNamara, RDN, LD, nutrition services manager and lead clinical dietitian at Cass Regional Medical Center in Harrisonville, Missouri, who blogs at www.erindishes.com.

    Enright agrees. "I hear a lot from clients that they avoid 'white foods.' The one that always gets a bad rap is the poor potato, which is a great source of potassium, vitamin C, and some fiber if the skin is eaten."

    One obvious flaw with the "no white foods" concept is that while white rice and white flour are refined and missing the fiber and nutrients found in their whole grain counterparts, many white foods are high in nutrients, including cauliflower, mushrooms, and the allium family (eg, garlic, onions, and leeks). As for potatoes, that depends. Ludwig says that the classic white, starchy russet potato has a glycemic load similar to that of white bread, so both can cause unhealthful elevations in blood sugar; other potatoes, including yellow-, red- and purple-skinned varieties, are "in a different category" because they have a moderate glycemic load.

    Myth 4: Low-Carb Diets Are Healthier
    Low-carb diets have been shown to improve some metabolic markers, including blood lipids and insulin sensitivity,16 but a 2013 meta-analysis suggests that they don't reduce the risk of CVD and overall mortality. In fact, carbohydrate restriction was linked with a 30% increased risk of mortality from all causes, and a slightly increased risk of cardiovascular events.17 Carbohydrate intake of only 15% below recommendations has been associated with reduced vascular health, independent of major CVD risk confounders, likely due to decreased intake of fiber, fruit, or root vegetables, and/or increased consumption of protein-dense products such as meat and dairy.18

    Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, is an assistant professor of nutrition and exercise science at Bucks County Community College in Newtown, Pennsylvania, owner of EatRealLiveWell.com, and director of nutrition at Newtown Athletic Club, where she teaches a class called "The Truth About Carbs." "It is amazing how many people hear and think they should consume high-protein snacks/foods to fuel a workout," she says.

    Ludwig agrees with the evidence suggesting that low-carb diets can produce favorable metabolic shifts in the short term,19 but feels that sticking to a low-carb diet for longer periods isn't necessary. "For most people, we can accomplish most of the benefits by targeting the highly processed carbohydrates and still enjoying the taste and diversity of natural carbohydrates."

    Myth 5: Carbs Cause Inflammation
    Some dietitians say the top reason clients avoid carbs is because they believe they are "bad for you," Enright says. "This of course leads to more probing of what exactly they mean by 'bad.' Usually it winds up referring to weight gain, but sometimes you hear claims about inflammation, or that they can cause diabetes."

    Chronic inflammation is a concern because it may be an intermediary between obesity and cancer, CVD, and other chronic diseases.20 One reason that whole grains may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes is by reducing inflammation.21,22 High intake of whole grains has been shown to reduce concentrations of inflammatory markers, including C-reactive protein and increase blood concentrations of adiponectin, a cytokine released by adipocytes (fat cells) that increases insulin sensitivity and reduces inflammation.2

    In addition, laboratory research and human feeding trials both have found that whole grains and other whole plant foods, as well as their constituent parts, such as insoluble fiber, magnesium, and phytochemicals, consistently have beneficial effects on glucose metabolism, blood lipids, endothelial function, antioxidant activity, and inflammation.6

    Myth 6: Avoid Fruit Due to High Sugar Content
    Chere Bork, MS, RDN, owner of Savor Your Life Today (www.cherebork.com), says she sees many clients who are confused about fruit. "Many are just starting to realize that fruits are carbs, and they want to eliminate them now. I see some clients eating the produce aisle in their blender and others moderate because they're afraid to put more in."

    Enright says she sees similar issues. "I have to educate that the sugars found in fruit are natural sources and are different from the sugars that are added to foods and beverages."

    While it's true that the main source of calories in whole fruit is sugar, predominantly fructose, Ludwig says that those sugars are sequestered, surrounded by fiber, in the fruit's cellular structure. "You'd never get a surge of fructose that would take a hit on the liver or a surge of glucose that would cause a surge in insulin," he says. "It's the added sugars that cause a problem."

    Gabriele Riccardi, MD, FAHA, a professor of endocrinology and metabolic diseases at Federico II University in Naples, Italy, says research has shown that increased consumption of fruit and berries is associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. "This is particularly true for fruit that's fiber rich like apples, pears, kiwi, and strawberries," he says.

    Jenkins also says a healthful, lower glycemic index diet can include temperate climate fruit like apples and oranges and all sorts of berries.

    Myth 7: Sugar-Free = Carb-Free
    Beth Lutton, RD, LDN, a dietitian at Mainline Medical Associates in Altoona, Pennsylvania, says she has patients who don't eat fruit or yogurt because they have a lot of sugar in them, yet they will eat pretzels or rice cakes in unlimited amounts.

    Ludwig says that one of the big misconceptions about carbs, fostered in part by the old Food Guide Pyramid, is that all sugars are bad and all starches are good, because even highly processed starches were placed at the base of the pyramid, while sugars were at the top. "White bread raises insulin and glucose more than table sugar," he says. This misconception further highlights the fact that many clients don't fully understand what a carb is or how it behaves in the body.

    Myth 8: All Carbs Are the Same No Matter Where They Come From
    Clients also may not understand that quality counts. Jones says she often hears that people with diabetes, especially those with type 1, perceive all carbs as created equal, whether they come from soda, sugary cereal, or quinoa.

    "I am often discussing with clients and families the differences between refined grains and whole grains," says Suzanne Farrell, MS, RD, owner of CherryCreekNutrition.com in Denver. "I also occasionally have clients unsure about various fruits and whether some are too high in sugar. There's also confusion about the potato and if it can be included or not in their plan."

    Jenkins says that "not all carbs behave the same way in the body," and that many traditional carbohydrate-rich foods provide health benefits because they have a low glycemic index or low glycemic load and are rich in fiber and nutrients.

    "Both quantity and quality of carbohydrate foods must be considered, but the latter is more important," Riccardi says, adding that healthful carbohydrate foods including whole grains, legumes, most vegetables, fiber-rich fruits, pasta, and low-fat dairy can be consumed without major concerns, provided individuals stay within their calorie requirements.23 "Conversely, refined carbohydrate foods with a high glycemic index should be consumed in limited amounts since they're rapidly digested and induce a sharper postprandial rise in blood glucose; this is relevant for appetite regulation and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes," he says.

    Myth 9: All Simple Carbs Are Bad; All Complex Carbs Are Good
    On the flip side, Jones says she often hears, "All simple carbs are 'bad' and all complex are 'good,' while lactose and bananas are simple and white bread is actually a complex starch."

    Just as a simple carb (sugar) may come packaged in an apple, a glass of milk, or a can of soda, complex carbohydrates (starch and fiber) also come in both whole and processed forms, and Ludwig points out that whole grain bread can be highly processed. "Whole kernel grains like buckwheat, quinoa, and wheat berries have much more nutrition and they digest more slowly."

    Myth 10: The Glycemic Index Is All That Matters
    The glycemic index has led many clients and patients to believe that it's better to eat a chocolate candy bar than a carrot or a slice of watermelon because the candy bar has a lower glycemic index value. However, experts say a food's glycemic index value shouldn't be used in isolation, but should be considered alongside the food's other qualities, such as calories, nutrients, and fiber, when considering the impact of diet on health. The glycemic load of the food—and the overall meal—may be more critical for supporting healthful blood sugar levels.24

    Diets with a high glycemic load rapidly increase blood glucose and insulin levels, while diets with a low glycemic load moderate these responses, and evidence suggests that diets with a low glycemic load may be associated with lower levels of inflammation.24 While the glycemic load of the diet can be reduced by decreasing total carbohydrate intake, evidence suggests that restricting total carbohydrates may have adverse effects on health.18 Altering the quality of carbohydrate foods may be the smarter, more healthful move.25

    One 2012 intervention study of 82 adults found that in diets with equal macronutrient compositions (including 55% from carbs), a diet with a low glycemic load resulted in lowered C-reactive protein and increased adiponectin in overweight and obese participants.26

    Bearers of Truth
    As nutrition experts, it falls to dietitians to be the voices of reason heard above the din. "Well-educated people are teaching their children to eat high protein and low carb because they truly think that it is a healthy diet," says Julie Satterfeal, MS, RDN, LD, owner of Triple Braided Nutrition and Wellness (www.triplebraided.com) in Huntsville, Alabama. "Fad diet proponents/promoters are doing a better job getting their false message out than we are as the nutrition professionals. I sure hope that we can turn this around."

    — Carrie Dennett, MPH, RDN, CD, is the nutrition columnist for The Seattle Times and speaks frequently on nutrition-related topics. She also provides nutrition counseling via the Menu for Change program in Seattle.

    References
    1. Alhazmi A, Stojanovski E, McEvoy M, Garg ML. The association between dietary patterns and type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2013;27(3):251-260.

    2. Aune D, Norat T, Romundstad P, Vatten LJ. Whole grain and refined grain consumption and the risk of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of cohort studies. Eur J Epidemiol. 2013;28(11):845-858.

    3. United States Department of Agriculture. Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/PDFs/Scientific-Report-of-the-2015-Dietary-Guidelines-Advisory-Committee.pdf. February 2015.

    4. Jenkins DJ, Wolever TM, Taylor RH, et al. Glycemic index of foods: a physiological basis for carbohydrate exchange. Am J Clin Nutr. 1981;34(3):362-366.

    5. Badimon L, Vilahur G, Padro T. Neutraceuticals and atherosclerosis: human trials.Cardiovasc Ther. 2010;28(4):202-215.

    6. Wu H, Flint AJ, Qi Q, et al. Association between dietary whole grain intake and risk of mortality: two large prospective studies in US men and women. JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(3):373-384.

    7. Huang T, Xu M, Lee A, Cho S, Qi L. Consumption of whole grains and cereal fiber and total and cause-specific mortality: prospective analysis of 367,442 individuals. BMC Med. 2015;13:59-67.

    8. Mozzafarian D, Hao T, Rimm EB, Willett WC, Hu FB. Changes in diet and lifestyle and long-term weight gain in women and men. N Engl J Med. 2011;364(25):2392-2404.

    9. Quick V, Wall M, Larson N, Haines J, Neumark-Sztainer D. Personal, behavioral and socio-environmental predictors of overweight incidence in young adults: 10-yr longitudinal findings.Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2013;10:37.

    10. Bertoia ML, Mukamal KJ, Cahil LE, et al. Changes in intake of fruits and vegetables and weight change in United States men and women followed for up to 24 years: analysis from three prospective cohort studies. PLoS Med. 2015;12(9):e1001878.

    11. Rautiainen S, Wang L, Lee IM, Manson JE, Buring JE, Sesso HD. Higher intake of fruit, but not vegetables or fiber, at baseline is associated with lower risk of becoming overweight or obese in middle-aged and older women of normal BMI at baseline. J Nutr. 2015;145(5):960-968.

    12. Kaiser KA, Brown AW, Bohan Brown MM, Shikany JM, Mattes RD, Allison DB. Increased fruit and vegetable intake has no discernible effect on weight loss: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014;100(2):567-576.

    13. Abete I, Astrup A, Martínez JA, Thorsdottir I, Zulet MA. Obesity and the metabolic syndrome: role of different dietary macronutrient distribution patterns and specific nutritional components on weight loss and maintenance. Nutr Rev. 2010;68(4):214-231.

    14. Gardner CD. Tailoring dietary approaches for weight loss. Int J Obes Suppl. 2012;2(Suppl 1):S11-S15.

    15. Sacks FM, Bray GA, Carey VJ, et al. Comparison of weight-loss diets with different compositions of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. N Engl J Med. 2009;360(9):859-873.

    16. Sacks FM, Carey VJ, Anderson CA, et al. Effects of high vs low glycemic index of dietary carbohydrate on cardiovascular disease risk factors and insulin sensitivity: the OmniCarb randomized clinical trial. JAMA. 2014;312(23):2531-2541.

    17. Noto H, Goto A, Tsujimoto T, Noda M. Low-carbohydrate diets and all-cause mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. PLoS One. 2013;8(1):e55030.

    18. Jovanovski E, Zurbau A, Vuksan V. Carbohydrates and endothelial function: is a low-carbohydrate diet or a low-glycemic index diet favourable for vascular health? Clin Nutr Res. 2015;4(2):69-75.

    19. Dyson P. Low carbohydrate diets and type 2 diabetes: what is the latest evidence? Diabetes Ther. 2015;6(4):411-424.

    20. Deng FE, Shivappa N, Tang Y, Mann JR, Hebert JR. Association between diet-related inflammation, all-cause, all-cancer, and cardiovascular disease mortality, with special focus on prediabetics: findings from NHANES III [published online January 29, 2016]. Eur J Nutr.

    21. Qi L, Hu FB. Dietary glycemic load, whole grains and systemic inflammation in diabetes: the epidemiological evidence. Curr Opin Lipidol. 2007;18(1):3-8.

    22. Minihane AM, Vinoy S, Russell WR, et al. Low-grade inflammation, diet composition and health: current research evidence and its translation. Br J Nutr. 2015;114(7):999-1012.

    23. Riccardi G, Rivellese AA, Giacco R. Role of glycemic index and glycemic load in the healthy state, in prediabetes, and in diabetes. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;87(1):269S-274S.

    24. Augustin LS, Kendall CW, Jenkins DJ, et al. Glycemic index, glycemic load and glycemic response: an International Scientific Consensus Summit from the International Carbohydrate Quality Consortium (ICQC). Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2015;25(9):795-815.

    25. AlEssa HB, Bhupathiraju SN, Malik VS, et al. Carbohydrate quality and quantity and risk of type 2 diabetes in US women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015;102(6):1543-1553.

    26. Neuhouser ML, Schwarz Y, Wang C, et al. A low-glycemic load diet reduces serum C-reactive protein and modestly increases adiponectin in overweight and obese adults. J Nutr. 2012;142(2):369-374.


    By Carrie Dennett, MPH, RDN, CD

     

    Compound In Cocoa May Reverse Age-Related Memory Loss

    A new study in Nature Neuroscience finds that high doses of flavanols – compounds isolated from cocoa – may reverse the normal memory loss that comes with age. The researchers created a drink with very high flavanol content for the study’s participants who ranged from 50 to 69 years old and didn’t suffer from any kind of memory loss other than what you would expect with normal aging. The good news, say the researchers, is that this study is the first to show a causal link between ingested flavanols and changes in memory and brain function. The bad news is that you probably won’t see the same benefits from administering yourself larger doses of chocolate bars.

    The cocoa drink was prepared by Mars , Inc. (the chocolate makers), which also funded the study in part. The Mars researchers used a proprietary method of isolating the flavanols, which is necessary since most methods degrade the compounds during processing.

    Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center scanned the brains of the 37 participants and gave them memory tests prior to the flavanol intervention. Half of the participants drank a high-flavanol drink (900 mg per serving, with 138 mg of the flavanol epicatechin) or a low-flavanol drink (10 mg per serving, with less than 2 mg epicatechin) once a day for three months. Brain scans and memory tests were repeated at the end of this period. The team was particularly interested in an area of the brain called the dentate gyrus, part of the hippocampus, and known to be affected in normal age-related memory loss, but not in Alzheimer’s disease.

    The results were striking: Participants who’d had the high-dose flavanol drink had measureable improvements both in their memory tests and increased activity in the dentate gyrus. The authors say that the memory improvements were so robust that they were equivalent to taking away a couple of decades’ worth of aging.

    “If a participant had the memory of a typical 60-year-old at the beginning of the study, after three months that person on average had the memory of a typical 30- or 40-year-old,” said study author Scott Small, who directs the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in the Taub Institute at Columbia University Medical Center.

    Though the authors say the effect appears to be causal – that is, the flavanols actually caused the memory improvements and neurological changes – much larger studies are needed to confirm the findings. Previous studies have suggested similar effects, however, and a separate study at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston is currently testing the effects of flavanols on cardiovascular health. Flavanols including epicatechin are also found in tea, apples, grapes, blackberries, and cherries. Mars already markets a flavanol-rich supplement called CocoaVia.

    Small cautions that people shouldn’t go out and buy large volumes of chocolate in an attempt to replicate the study results for themselves. The doses used in the study were much higher than what you could get from eating chocolate even by the fistful – and the fat and sugar present in store-bought chocolate would defeat the purpose anyway.

    “This is really not about chocolate,” Small told HealthDay. “And it would be detrimental to one’s health to try and run out and get flavanols from chocolate, which exist in chocolate, but in miniscule amounts.”

    By: Alice G. Walton 

    Are you hydrated when you exercise? A new study says probably not.

    70%. Of all the fluids Americans drink every day, that’s how much isn’t water, according to the most recent U.S. National Health Nutrition Examination Survey. Although the study reveals that most men reach their target for total fluid intake, only 30% of that is made up of water. Which isn’t doing their health any favors, particularly if they’re exercising regularly.

    Why? A humble glass of H2O may not be the most popular pre-workout tipple for Americans, but it's certainly the most essential. A study published in the journal Sports Medicine found dehydration "consistently attenuates strength (by 2%), power (by 3%) and high-intensity endurance (by 10%)."

    As a rule of thumb, drink a 250ml glass of water 30 minutes before you hit the gym to ensure your muscles are firing on all cylinders. Then follow that up with 500ml within 30 minutes of finishing. Deciding how much to sip mid-session is more subjective. "Around 500ml of water during the course of a one-hour workout is sensible," says nutritional therapist Jo Scott-Dalgeish.

    After 90 minutes moderate exercise, water is no longer enough. At this point, your glycogen stores are mere fumes and it's time to start sipping electrolyte-rich sports drinks. For endurance athletes, managing minerals is exceptionally important and, although the concept of drinking too much water may seem strange, it can be dangerous.

    Downing liters of water without replacing electrolytes can cause a condition called hyponatremia, which may lead to seizures, organ failure and even death. If you're tackling long distance runs, ensure you have a tried-and-tested hydration strategy in place.

    By: Edward Lane 

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