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Low Vitamin D Levels May Make Women More Prone to Weight Gain

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Low Vitamin D Levels May Make Women More Prone to Weight GainOver the years, scientists have found that low vitamin D levels may negatively affect a number health of areas such as bone strength, the immune system, and cellular health. Now research shows that low vitamin D may also affect body weight.

Low D May Add More Weight

A recent study conducted on over 4,600 women aged 65 and older found that women with lower vitamin D levels were more prone to gain weight. Of the 571 women who gained weight, the scientists observed that women who already had low vitamin D levels going into the study and failed to address their low D levels gained an average of two pounds over five years. The study was published in the June 2012 edition of the Journal of Women’s Health. It echoes the results of a previous study, which found that a combination of vitamin D and calcium supplementation slowed down weight gain.

While researchers aren’t clear yet how vitamin D directly affects weight management, it may have to do with the fact that vitamin D is a prohormone that helps regulate other types of cells. Certain immune cells, for example, need vitamin D to activate them so that they can perform their duties, which is why vitamin D is important to immunity. Similarly, fat cells also have vitamin D receptors, so in women with low vitamin D levels, their fat cells may continue to grow unregulated if there isn’t enough vitamin D to signal the fat cells to “stop.”

How Can You Get More Vitamin D?

Before you think of dosing up on vitamin D to shed pounds, keep in mind that the studies only indicate that low vitamin D makes people more prone to weight gain; taking more won’t help you lose it. That said, however, given how important vitamin D is to your overall health, it can’t hurt to get more of it in your diet. Vitamin D is often called the “sunshine vitamin” because your skin is able to produce it the moment you are exposed to sunlight. Despite this, many people still aren’t getting the recommended daily intake of vitamin D. The Institute of Medicine currently recommends a dosage of 600 IU daily for people aged 1–70. But with more people working in office environments and leading sedentary, indoor lifestyles, higher dosages may be more beneficial. Fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel), beef liver, cheese, and egg yolk are all natural food sources of vitamin D, but they contain very small amounts. That’s why supplements with higher dosages can be a better option to getting the optimal levels you need for good health. As stated earlier, however, increasing your vitamin D levels isn’t a magic bullet to end your weight management worries, so follow it up with healthy diet and exercise habits, too.

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Healthy Foods to Feed Your Blues

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Healthy Foods to Feed Your BluesThe term “comfort food” often gets a bad rap because we don’t always make the healthiest food choices when we’re chasing our blues away. We’ve all had days where all we wanted to do was slouch on the couch and sink our faces into a bag of potato chips or tub of ice cream. That’s because when we’re stressed, the stress hormone, cortisol, creates food cravings which we often satisfy with carbohydrates or sweets. And excess carbs, as we all know, leads to more fat cells, which can stress us out even more. That being said, there is a healthy alternative to “stressed-out snacking” that can help us satisfy our cravings without adding on the pounds.

Choose “Calming” Foods Instead of Comfort Foods

Calming foods, as opposed to comfort foods, contain vitamins and minerals that can have an uplifting effect on your mood. They contribute to the creation of neurotransmitters that help to reduce the stressful effects of cortisol. B vitamins, such as folate, have been confirmed by numerous clinical studies to positively affect moods. Asparagus, spinach, and other dark-green, leafy veggies are especially high in folate. But if snacking on salad sounds less than ideal to you, avocados are also rich in B vitamins and L-glutathione, another known mood enhancer. Just be careful with portions, however, because despite being a fruit, avocado has plenty of natural fats. Vitamin C, aside from being an immune booster, can also support healthy moods. Oranges and berries, besides being terrific snacks, are also packed with vitamin C, offering even more healthy alternatives for snacking. Antioxidants are all the rage when it comes to antiaging, but they may also come in handy for mood support. Garlic may not have the most alluring odor, but most researchers are in agreement over its health benefits. Dark chocolate (not milk chocolate or white chocolate) is also a healthier snack alternative because it’s loaded with mood-enhancing polyphenols and flavonols. And for a more soothing alternative, chamomile tea and green tea can help calm your nerves while satisfying your cravings, too. Zinc is another mineral that is tied to healthy, upbeat moods. Nuts, such as cashews, are not only zinc rich, but also make great snack foods at any time of the day. Or, if you’re feeling extra fancy at dinner time, oysters (besides being renowned as aphrodisiacs) also contain lots of zinc. Beta-glucans in oatmeal also have positive influences on mood. But be cautious with how much you consume because processed grains also tend to increase blood sugar and fat levels. Omega-3s have also been shown to support circulation to the brain and enhance moods. You can obtain plenty of these from walnuts or fatty, coldwater fish such as salmon and tuna.

Satisfy Your Cravings and Be Happy, Too

As you can see from the alternatives listed above, whenever stress-induced cravings hit you (as they do us all), you don’t have to give in to junk food. Plenty of healthy alternatives exist that are equally delicious—and many times healthier. So the next time those cravings hit you, be choosy in your snack choices. You’ll definitely feel less guilty about it later.

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Manage Your Sugar Levels by Being Picky About Your Fiber

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Manage Your Sugar Levels by Being Picky About Your FiberIt’s always great to get more fiber in your diet. However, it also pays to be picky about where you’re getting your fiber from because not all high-fiber foods are great at blocking sudden increases in your blood sugar levels. When you obtain your fiber from grains, for example, the starch in the grain converts into additional sugar, so it overpowers any sugar-blocking effects the fiber might have.

Fruits and vegetables contain more soluble fiber than sugar per serving, so they won’t raise your blood sugar levels as much when you get your fiber from these sources. True, these foods contain some amounts of sugar that make them naturally sweet. But unlike processed grains they lack starch that can change into additional sugar.

Choose Foods with Low Glycemic Loads

A simple way to determine which high-fiber foods are best for managing blood sugar is by checking their glycemic load. The glycemic load is an indicator of how much a certain food will raise blood sugar levels after consumption. Foods with glycemic loads greater than 100 increase your risk of health challenges due to high blood sugar levels. The best sugar blockers are fruits and veggies with glycemic load values less than 50. It’s also important to consider the order which you consume your fiber with meals in order for them to have any useful effect. There’s a good reason why salad is served before the main course: the soluble fiber in leafy greens helps counteract any sugar-raising starches that may be present in any carbohydrates in your meal. In general, vegetables are better sugar blockers than fruit because they contain more soluble fiber and have lower glycemic loads. You should try eating vegetables raw or cook them as little as possible to preserve their fiber content. However, both are much healthier alternatives to starch-rich grains.

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Don’t Get Caught Up in the Calcium Scare!

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CalciumOn May 23, 2012, the Los Angeles Times published an article warning that taking calcium supplements increases the risk of heart attack. The article was based on findings from a Swiss/German study published in the journal, Heart. Calcium is the top-selling nutritional supplement in the United States, so naturally this report raised quite a fuss when it was published. But here are a few things you may not know.

Study Faces Criticism

The study conducted by the scientists was set up to examine the effects of diet and nutritional supplements on cancer and nutrition health; it was not specifically targeted toward calcium supplements and cardio health. This means that even though there were several thousand participants in the analysis, only a fraction of them took any calcium supplements or consumed foods with high amounts of calcium (such as milk and dairy products). Another thing to consider is that study paints a bad light on calcium alone, but not when calcium is consumed as part of food or with other nutrients. The researchers claimed that when too much calcium is consumed, it can clog arteries the same way cholesterol plaque does. However, according to a 2007 article on WebMD, pairing calcium with other nutrients, such as vitamin D and magnesium, aids calcium absorption in bones and helps maintain normal blood calcium levels. Most high-quality supplements or multivitamin formulas already do this.

Strong Bones Need Calcium

Calcium supplementation is crucial to supporting bone density, especially in maturing women who are more prone to age-related bone loss. Studies on the benefits of calcium are so plentiful that the Food and Drug Administration has even approved health claims about calcium with regard to osteoporosis. The National Products Association, a leading representative of the dietary supplement industry, believes that people who are currently taking calcium supplements should not be frightened into cutting off their supplementation, especially if it has been recommended by a physician. If you are concerned about your calcium intake, speak to a physician first before making any radical changes to your supplement plan.

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Sacrifices Can Lead to Big Health Benefits

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Sacrifices Can Lead to Big Health BenefitsAs gas prices, the stock market, and employment rates continue to yoyo, one figure has been steadily growing over the past few years, and it’s not a good one: It’s obesity. According to a joint study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Duke University in Atlanta, at current rates 42% of Americans will be overweight by the year 2030, and half of that figure will be due to childhood weight gain. A large part of it is simply due to the fact that people are consuming more calories, but exercising less.

Small Numbers Add Up Over Time

On paper, weight management seems like a simple task: If kids cut between 41 to 64 calories per day, it can lead to a national obesity rate of only 16.1% among youths aged 12 to 19. That equates to about cutting 4 ounces of apple juice or a quarter of an oatmeal raisin bar every day. These figures vary between racial demographics, but they are manageable, nonetheless, if parents and schools work together to curb kids’ appetites, and if adults themselves exercise a little more willpower. If obesity figures are left to their own devices, national healthcare costs due to weight-related health issues may exceed $500 billion over the next 20 years.

Cutting Back Doesn’t Have to Be Difficult

As stated earlier, one doesn’t need to make drastic changes just to be healthier; small cutbacks to your diet every can be equally effective in producing lasting health results. So the next time you’re thinking about adding dessert to your meal, have one scoop of ice cream instead of two, or choose low-calorie frozen yogurt—then get up and add a little exercise into the mix. The long-term results may be a pleasant surprise!

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Dark Chocolate Brightens Up Your Heart Health

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Dark Chocolate Brightens Up Your Heart HealthMost of us dread eating things that are supposed to be good for our health (do you remember being forced to eat your greens when you were a kid?). But what if we told you that you could actually improve your heart health by eating chocolate?

According to Mee Young Hong, PhD, associate professor of exercise and nutritional sciences at San Diego State University, chocolate has remarkable benefits to your heart. But it’s important to be picky about the type of chocolate you consume because dark chocolate is a clear winner over white chocolate when it comes to lowering blood sugar levels and improving cholesterol.

Pick Dark Chocolate Over White Chocolate

Pure, unprocessed cocoa that hasn’t been heavily processed with sugar and preservatives is actually quite healthy because it is loaded with compounds called flavonols, which have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Dark chocolate contains up to 70% of cocoa solids whereas white chocolate has no cocoa solids at all. In her study, Dr. Hong and her team assigned 31 men and women 1.7 ounces of dark, white, or “bloomed” dark chocolate daily for 15 days. Bloomed chocolate is chocolate that has been melted, but stuck back in the refrigerator to reharden. Dr. Hong wanted to test this type of chocolate to see if blooming affected the health properties of the chocolate. At the end of the study, the researchers discovered that the participants who ate dark chocolate, compared to the white chocolate eaters, had:

  • Lower blood sugar because cocoa helps the body use insulin more effectively
  • Improved good HDL cholesterol
  • Decreased bad LDL cholesterol

Results were consistent even for the people who ate bloomed dark chocolate.

Additional Research Sweetens the Deal

A similar study conducted by scientists in Germany found that dark chocolate may also help lower blood pressure, again due to cocoa’s antioxidant capabilities that support the arteries and circulation. But just because the results look promising, it’s no reason to overindulge out on chocolate (remember, most store-brand chocolate is packed with sugar and calories!). You can, however, reward yourself every so often with a bar of dark chocolate to brighten up your mood—and your heart.

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