‘Pie hole’, colloquial for one’s mouth, is believed to have evolved in the USA in the 1980s from the British expression ‘cake hole’ (coined in the mid 20th century). Pie hole refers to a mouth, as in: Shut your pie hole or, in this case: Put less in your pie hole.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Coffee & Tea-ter Tottering Over Caffeine

For Pie Hole's parting post of 2013, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to produce a piece about something I do pretty much every time I write an article... sip a steaming hot cup of tea, English Breakfast is my usual poison. Tea drinking often stirs up a 'brew'-haha of sorts. One day tea is better than coffee, caffeine is good, next day it's bad, then it's all things decaf, followed by tea antioxidants, but wait: what about coffee? Let's pour over the evidence about these much loved beverages.
Camillia sinesis

Tea, after water, is the most consumed beverage in the world. In the US, coffee is more consumed than tea, they've always got to be a bit different. Tea is brewed from a shrub native the China and India: the Camillia sinesis. Green tea is a lightly processed version of C. sinesis, compared with black tea and oolong tea that are fermented and semi-fermented, respectively.

A recent meta analysis (combination and analysis of independent studies) reveals that tea, especially green tea, decreases the risk of stroke and depression, and improves levels of glucose, lipids, blood pressure and weight. That's a pretty tall order, with a splash of milk.

Unsweetened tea contains no calories. It stimulates mental and physical energy, increases satiety and basal metabolic rate (the minimum energy your body needs to function). Tea plays host to more than scones, jam and cream. Rather, compounds like antioxidants, caffeine and other stimulants like L-theanine, which suppresses appetite and increases thermogenesis (heat production). Interestingly, consuming hot tea, but not cold tea, is inversely associated with obesity, waist circumference and inflammatory markers.

There is growing research to suggest tea plays a role in digestive health by influencing gut microflora (the 'good' bacteria in your gut). Preliminary research also suggests the compounds in black tea play a role in either the prevention of, or recovery from diarrhea. Certainly not a topic to pooh-pooh.

But what about coffee, and caffeine for that matter? First, coffee: It's a complex beast that contains over 1,000 biologically active compounds including:
  • Caffeine - a potent central nervous system stimulant than can effect sleep
  • Diterpene alcohols - shown to increase serum cholesterol
  • Chlorogenic acid - an antioxidant that increases glucose metabolism, however at high levels it promotes insulin resistance

Coffee is kind of a mixed bag in terms of health benefits... Similar to tea, coffee intake is inversely associated with risk of stroke, type II diabetes, heart failure and some cancers. Interestingly though, it doesn't improve blood lipids, where tea does.

Now, caffeine. There's often a debate as to whether tea or coffee contains more caffeine. You read it here first: A standard 8oz (235ml) cup of black or green tea contains 14-64mg of caffeine, where 8oz of generic brewed coffee contains 95-200mg. So there you have it, tea is the lower caffeine option. On that note, research shows high levels of caffeine can cause anxiety, insomnia and bone loss due to increased urinary excretion of calcium and magnesium.

Finally, a summation of this evidence into something (somewhat) useful:
  • Both tea and coffee offer numerous health benefits
  • New research recommends keeping coffee consumption below an average of 4 cups/day due to high caffeine levels and potential adverse health effects
  • This is a rapidly developing 'watch this space' area of research, so stay tuned
    This is me in the morning. Happy holidays!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Breathe Easy: Even When You Have Gas

Home cooking, it’s healthier and cheaper than eating out: it’s creative, it’s a great way to play with your food… Yes, I’m a big advocate and fan of cooking. I recently heard an piece on NPR (where news matters) about stoves and worrisome pollutant concentrations. Of course this warranted further exploration. So join me as we clear the air on this topic.

In the US, 34% of homes have gas burners. It turns out, these are notorious for emitting pollutants like nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and formaldehyde. That’s right, cooking with gas can be silent, but deadly.

Nitrogen dioxide, in specific, is associated with adverse health effects. For instance, it exacerbates asthma, wheezing and decreases respiratory function. This is particularly of note when indoor concentrations are high. No, not that kind of “high”.

Estimates from recent research show weekly average pollutant levels in homes with gas burners exceed ambient air quality standards. Both carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide levels were exceeded by 7-8% and 55-70% respectively. That’s anything but a whiff of fresh air.

I’m sure most of you have figured out the solution… No? Here’s a (very corny) hint: If you’re a fan of cooking, like myself… Ok that’s just too lame. The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind… Ever so slightly less lame… Turn on that exhaust above your stove! Exhaust fans: they’re not just for toilets. Turns out they actually help eliminate those nasty pollutants and ensure you and your cohabitators breathe easy.

Top tips (as if you need them):
  • Cook at home: Your waist and your wallet will thank you
  • Turn on the exhaust fan when you turn on the stove: Your lungs will appreciate that
  • Drown out the fan by turning up your favourite music or radio station (yep, mine’s either NPR or some quality motown)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Turkey and Tryptophan Got You Tired?

Every year since my first American Thanksgiving, I've heard people gobble about how turkey contains tryptophan and tryptophan makes you sleepy... Thus making it perfectly acceptable to take a nap post the annual Thanksgiving stuffing of the belly. Since it's that time of year, it seems a pertinent time to ponder this proposition. 

Tryptophan is one of the 20 amino acids (building blocks of protein). Turkey does contain tryptophan, but before you clap the gavel and declare this thought a fact, let's examine some other evidence.

Turkey isn't the only meat containing tryptophan; many meats do. In fact cheese, milk, eggs, tofu, seeds and nuts also do. Tryptophan on it's own, on an empty stomach may make one drowsy, but Thanksgiving dinners contain a number of sumptuous offerings beyond straight tryptophan containing turkey.

Tryptophan is used by the brain to synthesise serotonin, a sleep related neurotransmitter. Serotonin is ultimately metabolised by enzymes in the pineal gland to make melatonin, also sleep related. Think you have it pegged? Hold the phone...

Elevated blood levels of tryptophan doesn't equate to greater synthesis of melatonin. What we are not considering here is sweet. No really, it's dessert. After eating sugars/simple carbohydrates, the body releases insulin (the hormone responsible to storing excess glucose in the liver and muscles). Insulin also causes muscles to store branched chain amino acids. But tryptophan is an aromatic, not branched chain, amino acid.

What does it mean? After insulin's done its thing, there's a higher level of tryptophan hanging out in the blood. But again, this doesn't correspond with greater concentrations of melatonin synthesis.

The real cause of sleepiness after stuffing substantial amounts of scrumptious sustenance down one's pie hole? Exactly that, overeating. Stretching the small intestines induces sleepiness. More blood is needed there for digestion, therefore there is less blood elsewhere. Think "rest and digest", compared to "fight or flight".

We get to enjoy this holiday but once a year, why spoil it with a list of annoying tips? Here's a list of a different kind:
  • Enjoy the company of the ones you love
  • Be thankful to live in a country where there is peace, freedom and food
  • Take the time to savour and enjoy each bite
  • If you want to take a nap, don't blame the turkey
Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Hey Kids, (Don't) Eat Your Heart Out

Everyone in a developed country not living in a cave can attest to hearing or reading about obesity. Whether it's TV news, the newspaper (paper?), news on your phone, or NPR (where news matters), basically, obesity is anything but the elephant in the room... So to speak. I generally loath reading articles and commentary about such weighty problems. But (and there's always one), I happened upon some interesting new research worth sharing.

Weight gain is very common during the transition from adolescence to adulthood. This is not surprising; teenagers are used to being able to eat anything and everything at anytime and not gain any weight. However, when growth slows and inevitably stops, those 5 packets of two-minute noodles followed by a pizza, a can of fluorescent aerosol 'cheese' and a sleeve or two of double-stuffed Oreos, won't aid in keeping that girlish (or boyish) figure.

A new, and pretty landmark study followed a large cohort (almost 14,000) of US middle and high school students for 12 years. The researchers wanted to assess if BMI trajectories over the 12 years were associated with cardiovascular disease risk and other health markers.

The results showed:
  • Weight gain between ages 15-20 was associated with a greater chance of type II diabetes and high blood pressure compared to gaining weight between the ages of 20-27
    • Why? It's hypothesised that time spent at an elevated BMI compounds diabetes risk due to a loss of insulin efficiency over time, AKA insulin resistance (see ball boy analogy)
  • Current BMI (rather than weight gain over time) was more predictive of blood pressure status
    • Why? Likely due to the immediate effects of weight gain on blood pressure: The heart has to work harder to pump blood, etc
So as it turns out, lifestyle and weight trajectories during this transitional period do set the scene for health or health problems down the road. This information will (hopefully) inform parents, policy makers and health care providers to push for education at this critical age, where, let's face it: teens and pregnant women alike would murder a tub of ice cream using a mars bar as a spoon.
It's preferable to grow upward, rather than outward.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Veg-sicle? The Lowdown on Frozen Vegetables

Fresh vs frozen vegetables: A topic that doesn't require much introduction. People commonly tell me fresh is best - whether they say that because they believe it, or because they know I'm a dietitian and feel they're being judged, I know not. People who know me, know I'm a sucker for a good deal and a sucker for some good science. So without further ado, let's talk about why frozen veggies are totally awesome.

Some frightfully fascinating history pertaining to frozen foods: Clarence Birdseye developed the quick freeze method in Canada, 1924. His technique involved holding the food under pressure between two metal plates, kept at a chilly -25F (-31C) by evaporation of ammonia. This process is preferable to the slow freeze method which causes the formation of large ice crystals. These crystals rupture the plant's cell walls, causing cell contents to spill out when thawed - leading to texture degradation. No one wants to eat flaccid, droopy, lifeless vegetables... Clarence knew that.

The question of nutritional quality often arises when discussing frozen and canned vegetables. But, they are really quite similar to their fresh counterparts. This is because canning and freezing occurs soon after harvest. Fresh veggies on the other hand, can take up to 10 days to get from farm to pie hole, resulting in deterioration of less stable nutrients by up to 50%.

Cooking is important in nutrient retention, and this goes for both fresh and frozen veggies. Extended cooking times or cooking at very high heat causes vitamin loss. Boiling and blanching (flash boiling) are both prime examples of this. Better to cook for a short time via microwave or steaming. Again, unless you're my 92 year old grandpa, no one likes limp, lifeless, flaccid vegetables.

So, why are frozen (or canned) veggies so good?
  • You can keep them much longer than the fresh stuff
    • Fewer trips to the supermarket
    • Less wastage and spoilage
  • A way to access produce when it's not in season
  • Easy to throw into mixed dishes like soups, sauces and casseroles for a little extra something something (and by that, I mean fiber, vitamins and minerals)
A quick note about the canned stuff: They are often processed with salt. The best ways to get around that is by buying the ones with no added salt (read the label) or just rinse well after liberating them.

Basically, all veggies are great. Whether you prefer fresh, frozen, canned or a combination, just put them in your pie hole on a daily basis.
My favourite place on Earth: The Queen Vic Market

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Walking Down the (Supermarket) Aisle

I'd say most people who read the health section have read something about 'shopping the perimeter' of the supermarket. You stick to the fresh stuff, nothing from a box, yadda yadda yadda. Yes, this is kind of a good suggestion... But are we really doing our hips and bellies a solid by abstaining from the long and winding (road) intestines of the supermarket?

In case anyone's been living under a rock, the premise of shopping the perimeter is that you avoid all the 'naughty' processed and packaged foods that inhabit the center of the supermarket. Instead, your stick to things like fresh meat, eggs, dairy, fruits and veg.

While this is a good starting point, it's not a hard and fast truth (kind of how not all vegetarians are healthier than all omnivores). First off, I'd like to point out the perimeter is also home to all those lovely fresh baked cookies, cakes and white breads - often conveniently located nice and close to the entrance. Many supermarkets also have a premade food section housing the likes of sushi, soups, roast meats, deli meats, etc, which is also found along the coveted perimeter.

Now, I'm not saying the perimeter is bad, it's not. Fresh fruit, veg, dairy and fresh meat are all great. But so too are things like dried beans, dried pasta, rice, oats, canned fruits/veg, canned fish, frozen meat, frozen fruit/veg, bread, oil, herbs, spices, tea, coffee, baking goods like flour, cocoa powder, nuts, dried fruit, honey and peanut butter (the real stuff that contains: roasted peanuts... the end). All of which live in the bowels of the supermarket.
Don't get me wrong, you'll find plenty of crap down the aisles of the supermarket.  Things like soft drinks, chips, protein bars (uh oh), power bars (oh dear), diet bars (crossing a line?), multivitamins (line crossed), herbal supplements (behind enemy lines)... You get the idea.
Similarly though, if you continue down this aisle and hang a right, you'll find a section of the supermarket I find particularly grotesque... And believe it or not, it's usually along the perimeter. The section to which I am referring: The 'secondary' cheese/meat section. You know, the one that contains all the goodness *cough* of artificial colours - fluorescent orange cheese, and flavours - smoked or otherwise cured meat. This is definitely a section I avoid like the plague.

Take home points and tips:
  • The perimeter is not 'all good'
  • The center is not 'all bad'
  • Avoid tempting items like soft drinks, cookies, chips, etc by simply avoiding those aisles
  • Shop smart: Read the labels and compare products, even if you're prowling the periphery
Before you engage in strict border patrol, ask yourself: Is stringently skirting the circumference of the supermarket simultaneously skimping on significant eSSentials?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Breakfast: Kick Start Your Ovaries

Pie hole devotees will recall a few months ago we discussed the most common cause of female infertility: Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). The abridged digest of "Don't Wait to Lose Weight and Ovulate" is that weight loss, irrespective of diet composition (eg: high protein, low fat, low carb, etc) improved menstrual regularity and ovulation in women with PCOS. Oh, I almost forgot, the usual disclaimer for potentially blush-worthy words applies to this article: Words including ovulation, menstruation, sex hormones and ovaries will appear frequently. But stick around, today we're talking about improving fertility without weight loss.

A quick recap of PCOS: It prevents ovulation due to excessive production of sex hormones, called 'androgens'. Two major factors cause this overproduction of hormones: Insulin resistance and hyperinsulinaemia. Don't freak out! I'll explain: 
  • Insulin is the hormone that moves glucose (sugar) from your blood into your cells. Think of it as the ball boys at a tennis tournament who clear excess tennis balls from the court, allowing the game to continue
  • Insulin resistance means you require more ball boys to remove the same number of tennis balls as someone who is not insulin resistant
  • Hyperinsulinaemia is tied to insulin resistance as it refers to higher than expected levels of insulin (or ball boys) for a given amount of glucose (or balls... tennis balls that it)
PCOS affects 6-10% of reproductive aged women. Over half of women with PCOS are obese (BMI >30). Overweight and obese women can improve the above factors through diet and weight loss. But what about lean women with PCOS? Weight loss is not a viable option for them.

Previous research shows that timing of meals, hormones and nutrients can effect metabolism, fat metabolism and fat storage. A recent study looked at overweight and obese women with insulin resistance, and found that caloric distribution of meals impacted insulin levels. The group eating a high calorie breakfast and low calorie dinner had both improved weight loss and insulin sensitivity (fewer ball boys needed), compared to the low calorie breakfast and high calorie dinner group (lunch calories were identical).

Where it gets really interesting is with a new study that investigated lean women with PCOS (where weight loss is not an appropriate treatment option). One group had a high calorie breakfast and low calorie dinner (BF group), the other had a low calorie breakfast and high calorie dinner (D group). Both groups had the same number of calories for lunch. After 90 days the results showed:
  • Women in the BF group were significantly less insulin resistant (they needed fewer ball boys)
  • Women in the BF group had significantly lower levels of the sex hormones associated with irregular menstruation and ovulation
  • Almost 50% of women in the BF group had ovulated at least once during the study, compared to only 20% in the D group (these results were significant)
  • The D group did not show adverse insulin effects, their insulin resistance and other factors (like sex hormones) remained constant
This is exciting because it is a simple, safe way for lean women with PCOS to improve factors like sex hormone levels and insulin resistance without medication. These factors, in turn improve menstrual cyclicity and ovulation. 

So go on ladies, make breakfast really pack a nutritional and caloric punch to get those ovaries off to a great start!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

High Tech Solutions to Weighty Problems... Pt II

We've discovered the health app and complimentary devices component of the smartphone and weight loss industry. However, I couldn't pass up the chance to write a follow up article based on some new research I stumbled upon. There's well and truly an app for everything, and there are some 10,000 apps specifically for diet and weight loss... Quite astronomical, really. So, how useful are they?

Some stats to start us off: 91% of adults in the US own a mobile phone. 61% own a smartphone. Half of smartphone users have used their phone to search health information. 60% of all downloaded health apps are related to weight loss and exercise. Perhaps more time walking and less time on our bums letting our fingers do the walking would help.

There are some studies that suggest the internet and mobile technologies are beneficial in delivering health behaviour interventions for lifestyle changes and weight management. It is, of course, traditional that these interventions are administered by trained healthcare experts whose strategies are based on evidence. This begs the question: How many health apps can boast evidence-based strategies?
Evidence-based strategies are those that have demonstrated efficacy through research. For example: Setting weight loss goals, education about food substitutions, portion control, time management and nutrition label reading are evidence-based behavioural strategies that aid weight loss. 

A majority of apps included weight loss goal setting and diet goals (90%). 87% of apps included calorie balance tracking (calories in vs calories out). The two highest scoring apps included 65% of behaviour strategies (MyNetDiary free and MyNetDiary Pro). The next highest scoring apps only included 25% of strategies (All-In Fitness and Noom Weight Loss). That's quite a quality difference.

Generally speaking, the free apps were just as good as the paid ones: Many of both featured a bar code scanner and allowed social media connection (providing social support). But the majority failed to feature much in the way evidence-based strategies for sustained weight loss.

In the end, evidence-based strategies are important, but so too is interface, user experience and the ability for people to engage and reengage with the app - which are imperative for long term behaviour change. Self monitoring and recording are associated with improved weight loss. So too is frequent and consistent monitoring of foods eaten which results in twice as much weight loss compared to infrequent monitoring.

The short recap:
  • Weight loss apps can be useful
  • Look out for ones that support your healthy lifestyle changes in the long term
  • It still takes drive and motivation... Just because you downloaded an app, doesn't mean the weight magically falls off

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Should You Steer Clear of Beer?

Wine is often spruiked as 'heart healthy', 'artery unclogging', 'miracle juice'. There's almost a headline a week about how wine helps ward off cancer, gallstones, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), cardiovascular (heart) disease, 'bad' cholesterol and more. But this begs the question: What about beer?

First, a bit of beneficial background about beer brewing. Beer is made from two plant sources: barley and hops. The act of 'brewing' allows the barley starch to morph into a sugary liquid called 'wort' (what an appetising name...). The 'wort' transforms into alcohol via fermentation by (brewer's) yeast.

A fun fact about beer colour: Dark beer doesn't equal higher alcohol content. Beer colour is determined by the type of malt. Alcohol content is determined by the amount of sugar in the wort.

Most beers use malted barley, although some beers use other grains, or combinations of grains including wheat, rice, oats and rye. 'Malted' simply means the grain germinates or sprouts before it is used. Hops, a flower from the hop vine, adds the bitter flavour and aroma typical of beer.
Some fun facts about hops:
  • It acts as a preservative (due to its acidity)
  • It has antibiotic properties that favour brewer's yeast above other microorganisms, this aids in 'head retention' (it sounds dirty, but it's the foam layer that sits atop your glass of beer)
As we said earlier, red wine is often promoted as 'heart healthy', but the truth is, it's the ethanol (alcohol) that provides benefits like increasing 'good' cholesterol, decreasing 'bad' cholesterol and reducing risk of blood clots.

There's a lot of talk about 'polyphenols', particularly regarding red wine. Polyphenols are potent antioxidants that have protective health effects like reducing risk of heart disease and blood clotting, and lowering 'bad' cholesterol. Both wine and beer contain polyphenols, but they originate from different sources. In wine they come from grapes and in beer they come from hops and malt. Basically, your yuppie, wine swilling neighbour isn't getting a better deal on polyphenols with his expensive bottle of wine.

A fun fact about polyphenols in wine: The red stuff contains about 10 fold more polyphenols than the white stuff.

How does beer measure up against wine nutritionally speaking? Per oz (~30ml):

Wine is higher in calories due to the higher alcohol content. A bit of context: 1 gram of alcohol contains 7 calories. Compare that to 1g of fat containing 9 calories and 1g of protein/carbohydrate containing 4 calories. Alcohol is pretty energy dense, booze hounds beware.

Beer and wine contain a slew of vitamins and minerals. Beer beats wine per ounce in niacin, pantothenic acid (vit B5), vit B12, folate, selenium and silicon. Wine beats beer in the calcium, iron magnesium, potassium, zinc, manganese and flouride departments.

Things to remember:
  • Beer and wine contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants... In very small amounts
  • The health benefits of beer and wine are based on regular, moderate consumption
  • Health benefits of beer and wine are greater when combined with a healthy diet

Learn more about alcohol guidelines and 'standard drinks'

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Fast Track Your Faeces

An action few can discuss without a giggle, a blush, or a joke... When my friend's husband, with a cheesy grin and red face, sheepishly broached the subject with me (right after dinner at a restaurant), my, perhaps too enthusiastic of a response was: "don't be shy, bowel dialogue with patients is mandatory, nothing you say can possibly perturb me on this subject". So there begun a discussion about fibre and faeces (yes, I'm spelling them the Australian way). If you're squirming already, or weak of stomach, hold your breath and strap yourself in coz there's more toilet humour ahead.

Fibre: It's the stuff found in plant cell walls that human bodies can't digest. It's the stuff that helps keep us regular (in the pooping department). And it's all around awesome stuff.

To answer my friend's first question: What is regular for me, might be different to what's regular for you. Some people's regular is once a day, some twice a day, some once every two days. That's fine. If you're going less than three times a week, your usual habits change, or it's painful to go, this could mean constipation (gosh darn, I said it and the sky didn't fall).

As for my friend's next question: If you want to put your faeces in the fast lane, a good place to start is with fibre. And I'm not talking about fibre supplements, I'm talking about the real stuff. Here are some foods that'll really get you in on the poop parade:
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Legumes
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts and seeds
A few important things to remember:
  • Increase the fibre in your diet slowly (gas and bloating can occur if you go from zero to hero too quickly, give your gut bacteria time to adjust)
  • Fibre slows stomach emptying which helps keep you feeling full for longer (two enthusiastic thumbs up)
  • The above foods are high in fibre whilst simultaneously high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and healthy fats
  • Fibre attracts water inside your gut. To ensure your excrement is expedited, drink plenty of water
  • Physical activity is another important aspect for convenient colon clearing (1, 2)
  • Fiber, fluid and physical activity together can help reduce constipation
What about packaged, manufactured products claiming they are high in fibre? So is a cardboard box... Do your due diligence and read the label. Adding extra vegetables and legumes to meals and soups, snacking on fruit, and buying whole grain products like bread, crackers, cereal, etc are economical ways to boost the fibre in your diet.

I do hope this has unclogged and cleared up a few everyday queries people may have about their bowels. Finally, I leave you with this hope: May the force not be with you.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

High Tech Solutions to Weighty Problems

For those of us who can turn on a computer, check emails and acknowledge the internet isn't a passing fad, the world is online. It's about instant gratification and information. Want to pick a movie, listen to the radio, find a restaurant, share pictures of your baby or launch multicoloured birds into precariously built wooden structures? Well, there's an app for that. Along with these apps have emerged a breed of health apps, often connected to a device that monitors, well, you. How useful are they, really?

Research shows that keeping a food diary helps people lose weight. It makes us aware of our food habits, and makes us accountable for what we put in our pie holes. It's also a very handy tool to show your dietitian, who can help you assess meals, snacks, portion sizes and more (shameless plug).

The pitfall of food diaries is that they are time consuming to keep, which means they're not sustainable long term.

There are many fancy (and expensive) devices and apps that monitor one or many of your physical activity, heart rate, sleep patterns, food and beverage intake, mood, etc. More research is needed to fully assess their benefits, but so far it looks promising. Or you could just get a smart tooth implant to track your various pie hole habits - I presume the incentive to put that device in your mouth is that it's a 'chip'.

So here are my thoughts: I borrowed and trialed the Up band by Jawbone, which retails for $130. You can set goals like hours of sleep and number of steps. The nifty slumber function tracks info like how long it took to drop off, how many times you woke up and time spent in deep vs light sleep. You can also input your daily meals, snacks and beverages to track your calories.

Here's the summary download:
    • Sleep function:
      • How many times I'd woken up: The band often got it wrong
      • It often counted laying in bed as 'sleeping' (I wish they were the same thing)
    • The physical activity tracker: 
      • Only really useful for walking - cannot figure out activities like cycling, swimming, hockey, circus training, etc 
      • Doesn't monitor heart rate, so it can't distinguish between calories burned when walking up hill vs on flat terrain vs running 
      • It's on your wrist not your hip, so if you don't swing your arms (eg: hand in pocket, on the dog's leash, on the shopping trolly/cart) steps aren't logged
    • Food monitoring: 
      • It's time consuming! It takes several minutes to input, search and select each food item 
      • For combination meals made at home (like spaghetti bolognese, lasagne, curry) you either have to select pre-made versions or guesstimate the quantity you ate of each separate food item in the dish
      • What is really cool though, is in addition to displaying and tracking calories, it also tracks fiber, fat, carbohydrates, sugar, sodium, etc
      The inner workings of the Jawbone Up app in conjunction with the Up Band

      All these things impact accuracy. BUT for many people, these toys provide an incentive to go for a walk, or swap that chocolate bar for an apple.

      People already in the habit of exercising and who know how much food they need to maintain their weight, will find these devices redundant. But for people who are making big lifestyle changes, these tools could be the difference between a 'fad' change that lasts for a week, or a change that becomes a habit and lasts long term.

      The take home:
      • These devices can provide information to aid weight loss and an incentive to move more
      • They track progress and most importantly, bestow a sense of accountability
      • They are expensive, so perhaps a plain old food diary and cheap pedometer will do the job whilst simultaneously freeing up some cash to buy some nice produce

      Wednesday, September 25, 2013

      Juicing: Healthy Habit or Half-Witted Hypothesis? Pt II

      In part one of Juicing: Healthy Habit or Half-Witted Hypothesis? we discussed what juicing is and why associated cockamamie claims don't stand up in a court of science. Now, we can discuss the proverbial cousins of juicing and the juicer: The smoothie and the blender. Jump in, strap up and prepare to be pulverised.

      A smoothie is made in a blender from a mix of ingredients, traditionally fruit, but often includes a combination of ice, milk, yoghurt, honey, chocolate, vegetables, seeds, peanut butter, etc. Unlike juicers, blenders do not extract the liquid (juice) from the plant tissues (fiber). Rather, blenders hold onto all the good stuff. Yep, you can tell that pretentious friend of yours who is 'juicing', that smoothies are a better choice.

      Because smoothies contain that wonderful fiber, it takes your body longer to digest, compared to juice. But (and there's always one), let's not forget that blender blades 'cut' and obliterate plant cell walls, liberating their contents. This means your body doesn't have to work as hard or as long to digest it compared to a whole, unpulversised fruit or vegetable.

      Here's a definite reason for smoothie lovers to fist bump (or flump, though that sounds a bit suggestive... But I don't mind). As we said earlier, smoothies generally incorporate one or more forms of dairy: Yoghurt and/or milk (sadly, smoothies are not really a place for cheese). But as we know, dairy is an excellent source of protein and many vitamins and minerals. Take that, all you juice junkies.

      Smoothies can be ideal meal replacements because they contain fiber and dairy, thus providing a fairly balanced and nutritious option. The dark side of these creamy, blended beauties often lurks in those you find outside your home AKA: The commercial ones. As with anything made by a corporation, they are manufactured to taste as delicious as possible so you buy it again... For smoothies, this means adding plenty of sugar.

      The take home messages and tips?
      • Smoothies hold on to fruit and vegetable fiber, where juice does not
        • More economical because you're using the whole item, not chucking the majority out
      • Smoothies will keep you fuller for longer
      • Make your smoothies with low fat milk and/or yoghurt
      • Be aware of portion sizes (homemade and bought)
        • Just as with juice, you wouldn't eat 4 oranges at once, be mindful of how much fruit you're blending
        • Blending doesn't remove calories
        • If you're buying, get the small or kiddie size
      Original (610ml) smoothies contain ~450cal
      Kids (350ml) smoothies contain ~200cal

      Wednesday, September 18, 2013

      Juicing: Healthy Habit or Half-Witted Hypothesis?

      Let's talk about a fabulous (or is it?) trend that has people squawking and gobbling all over the place: Juicing. So, when I hear someone say, in a very pretentious voice: 'oh I'm juicing', I can't help but think of Violet Beauregarde from the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory... Because she was sent to the juicer... C'mon, you know what I'm talking about! Let's centrifuge out the facts, (pulp) fiction and watered down claims.

      Juicing is the act of extracting liquid (juice) from plant tissues using a juicer. This article discusses the act of juicing, next week's article "Juicing: Healthy Habit or Half-Witted Hypothesis? Pt II" will discuss smoothie-ing (yes, there is a difference).

      Juicing became popular back in the 90s, when proponents professed it could reverse everything from aging to chronic diseases.

      It has since evolved in our polar society where some of us are health obsessed and others are, well, the complete opposite. People and companies with their finger on the juicer button shout similar claims from their atop their soap, or in this case, juice boxes.

      Here are some common claims, and here's why they're not worth they juicer they leaked out of:

      Claim 1: Your body absorbs nutrients better from juice
      Theory: Fiber is 'taxing' on your digestive system and it impairs digestion of nutrients from fruit and veg
      Why it's rubbish: Our bodies evolved eating whole fruit and veg because that's what existed in nature. Your digestive system is not only equipped and designed to deal with fiber (hence why we have gut bacteria), but high fiber diets are implicated in better intestinal health and lower cancer risk. After all, caveman didn't run around with juicers.

      Claim 2: Juice clears 'toxins' from the body
      Theory: I've no idea...
      Why it's rubbish: There's no scientific evidence to support that claim. But if that isn't enough, try this: Your kidneys and liver are very capable organs that evolved to eliminate body toxins.

      Claim 3: Juice aids with weight loss
      Theory: Not sure, perhaps an extrapolation of the fact that fruit and veg are low in calories, therefore drinking them help with weight loss?
      Why it's Rubbish: Weight loss is largely dependent of the amount and quality of calories taken in. But there are a couple of other reasons this claim is rubbish, follow the logic:
      A fun fact about insulin: It prevents lipolysis (fat breakdown), not such a great thing for weight loss...

      Here are some other things to think about:
      • How many oranges does it take to make 1 cup of OJ?
        • The answer is ~4, each orange yields about 1/4 cup of juice (not much bang for your buck there)
        • Would you sit and eat 4 oranges in one sitting?
      • Piggybacking on that thought, if you were to eat 4 oranges at once, would you stay fuller for longer compared with drinking 1 cup of OJ?
        • Yes
        • Why? Because 4 oranges have 12.5g of fiber compared with the stingy 0g in 1 cup of OJ
        • Also, juice is liquid (duh), and liquids pass through your stomach much faster than a solid meal
      • What about protein and fat?
        • Juices have minimal protein and little to no fat, that's good, right? Wrong! Protein and fat take longer to digest, thus meals containing them keep you fuller for longer
      The take home message:
      Juice can be a useful way to increase your nutrient intake, but remember you're discarding the skin and fiber which are loaded with antioxidants and other goodies important for digestive health. Juice is fine every now and then, but come on... Put a real meal in your pie hole.