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Blog posts of '2014' 'October'

Finding Healthy Facts in Nutrition Labels as a Guide to Better Living

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Finding Healthy Facts in Nutrition Labels as a Guide to Better LivingSince the late 1800s the government has set standards which regulate how companies and industries can claim or market what is in their food products, paving the way for modern nutrition labels. Nutrition labels continually go through changes and updates as our knowledge about certain foods, ingredients, and what it means to be healthy evolves. These labels are designed to be a guideline so that you know the true health value of the foods you consume. But in spite of the availability of this information, do people actually read them?

A Study in Purchase Habits

To investigate how often people really look at nutritional labels, researchers at the University of Minnesota took 203 volunteers and gauged what information they looked at when making a food purchase. The test involved a computer-based-shopping program where participants were shown 64 different items—including products such as cereal, soup, crackers, cookies, and ice cream—posing the question of whether or not they would buy the item. Synced with the computer program was an eye-tracking device that monitored what the shopper was viewing, tracking up to 1,000 eye movements per second. Once the buying task portion of the study was done, participants were then asked to fill out a questionnaire about their usual real-world grocery shoppping and buying habits.

What the Numbers Really Say

What researchers discovered was that there was a big difference between consumers' viewing habits and what they self-purported in the questionnaire. Thirty-three percent of participants stated that they "almost always" look at product's calorie count, 31% said they looked at total fat content, 24% looked at sugar content, and 26% claimed they paid attention to serving size. However, the eye-tracking data showed that only 9% of people looked at calorie count for almost all items—while only 1% of the participants looked at each of the other components, including fat, trans fat, sugar, and serving size.

Authors of the study say that the biggest problem with food labels is their confusing nature and sometimes concealed placement on certain boxes and packaging.

"In the simulated shopping setting, participants could see Nutrition Facts labels without having to turn, rotate, or otherwise manipulate a food package. In contrast, Nutrition Facts labels on food packages tend to be in locations that cannot be seen by consumers looking at the front of a package (e.g., when viewing a shelf of items in a grocery store)," the authors wrote.

Monitoring Serving Size to Avoid Overeating

Many people desire a road map to better health, not realizing that every box, container, or bag of packaged food already provides insight into what you are eating, allowing you to monitor what your body is getting each day and align it with your daily needs. One of the main things people often misunderstand is what serving size means when it comes to individual food items. Serving sizes are determined by the FDA and USDA to provide an average calorie count of certain food items. However, many people don't take into account the serving sizes of snacks or foods such as cereal, crackers, or candy bars, which can lead to the consumption of excess calories.

Recognizing What to Avoid and What to Focus On

Another point to note is the fat content of food. Nutrition labels separate the fat content by total fat, trans fat, and saturated fat. If you are focusing on a heart-healthy diet, watching for foods that are both low in saturated and trans fat content is crucial.

Salt and sugar are other ingredients that warrant attention. Salt is associated with heart health; in particular, blood pressure. Balancing out your salt intake with nutrients such as potassium can help keep your blood pressure levels within healthy ranges. Sugar, in the form of high-fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners, can be a source of "empty calories", which are calories that provide little or no added nutritional value, so be on the lookout for these, too.

Giving the Label a Look

Nutrition labels are often misunderstood and underused resources for better nutrition. Utilizing the nutritional information that is already available to you can help you develop healthier eating habits day in and day out. Along with following daily exercise recommendations and supplementing your diet when needed, you can start seeing the results you always wanted.

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What Is in That Energy Drink and Is It Worth the Trade-Off?

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What Is in That Energy Drink and Is It Worth the Trade-Off?Despite national health movements encouraging people to lead healthier lifestyles, consumption of energy drinks continues to rise. According to data compiled by Bloomberg last year, energy drink sales increased nearly 7%, reaching $9.2 billion by the end of 2013. From office workers to athletes, people are consuming energy beverages for a variety of reasons. But are they really that helpful?

Measuring Effective Performance

A recent study on energy drinks carried out by experts from Camilo José Cela University (UCJC) sought to analyze the positive and negative effects they may have on athletes. In the study, top athletes who participated in various sports including soccer, climbing, swimming, basketball, rugby, tennis, and hockey were given the equivalent of three cans of energy drink or a placebo energy drink before their competitions. Their performance was then measured with GPS devices which tracked their average speed and distance covered. Other devices were used to track muscle usage in certain sports. Results of the study showed a minimal 3%-7% percent increase in total performance for those who had taken the energy drinks. However the results were not all positive.

An Unhealthy Trade-Off

While an increase in performance was noted, it was not without a cost. Athletes that took the energy drinks before their competitions also experienced an increased frequency of insomnia, along with nervousness and an inability to calm down after their activities. The placebo group did not show the same signs or frequency of any negative side-effects such as nervousness, anxiety, or insomnia as those who were given the energy drinks.

Other studies done on the short-term physical effects of energy drink consumption showed alterations in short-term heart function. Researchers took cardiac MRIs of 15 healthy men and three healthy women with an average age of 27.5 years before and one hour after they consumed an energy drink containing 400 mg/100 ml taurine and 32mg/100 ml caffeine. Comparing MRI images, researchers discovered that there was increased strain on the left ventricle in the "after" images.

While more research about the long-term effects of energy drinks on the heart and body in general is needed, study author Dr. Jonas Dörner from the University of Bonn, Germany, commented that it was clear that energy drinks can affect short-term heart function.

Choosing a Path to Healthy Energy

While public scrutiny often falls on the soft drink beverage industry, the ingredients in energy drinks do not vastly differ. Some energy drinks contain up to three times the amount of caffeine as a normal cup of coffee. As recently as 2013, a group of 18 doctors jointly urged the FDA to restrict the amount of caffeine companies were allowed to put into energy drinks as reported in the NY Times.

When looking for a healthy source of energy—whether it's for exercise or help you endure the work day—it's important to be aware of how these sources can affect your body. Instead of constantly turning to caffeine or sugar-filled foods or beverages, choose foods high in fiber or proteins such as eggs, nuts (including trail mix), and whole-grain cereal for longer, more sustained energy. When it comes to beverages stay hydrated with plain old H2O. Water helps transport nutrients through the blood and can support the efficient removal of waste that can build up and lead to fatigue during exercise.

For the healthy, long-lasting energy your body needs, be sure to choose the right fuel. Proper nutrition and hydration can provide the right daily balance to help keep your energy levels where you need them all day long.

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Why Knowing Your BMI can be the Beginning of Better Health

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Why Knowing Your BMI can be the Beginning of Better HealthBecause every person's body shape can vary in size, proportion, and weight distribution, having a particular set of measurements to calculate your ideal weight in relationship to your height can be helpful in assessing the current state of your overall health. The body mass index measurement, or BMI, can give you a specific idea of what your target weight should be. However, figuring out your BMI is only the beginning. Integrating the proper nutrition and exercise into your lifestyle - in manageable, realistic steps can help you reach your target BMI index and achieve the greater health you desire.

Your BMI and Its Importance

Your body weight is tied to many areas of overall well-being. From blood sugar to blood pressure to overall heart health—and even the internal pressure of your organs and other systems—weight is one of the single most important aspects of assessing how healthy you are. This is why the BMI can be a great tool. This formula can help determine whether your body type and size is putting you at a higher risk for serious health problems and allows you to pinpoint specific areas you need to target to set you on the path to better health.

To determine your BMI number, start with your weight (in pounds) divided by your height (in inches) squared, and multiply by 703. Once you get your BMI number you can look at the unhealthy and healthy ranges. For adults age 20 or older, if your BMI is 30 or higher, you are considered obese. BMI measurements 25-29 and beyond are categorized as "overweight", while numbers from 18.5 to 24.9 are considered "normal" weight. Anything less than 18.5 is considered to be "underweight", which also can put you at risk.

A Realistic View of Health

While it's always sensible to maintain a healthy weight for lifestyle reasons, fad diets and unattainable body images have led many astray in the process of attempting to lose weight. Health starts from within. Not everyone can or should want to look like models in TV commercials or magazines. With that in mind, knowing your BMI number and what your ideal range should be can help you set realistic goals when it comes to weight loss.

However, in addition to knowing your BMI number, you should also know what it doesn't take into account. BMI doesn't factor in age and gender, or differences between fat and muscle mass, Athletes or those with more muscles mass may have a higher BMI, but are not necessarily unhealthy. In the same respect, age and gender can skew your BMI reading. According to the CDC, women tend to have more body fat than men, on average. Also, as you get older your body tends to store more fat.

Another important factor to consider, therefore, is waist circumference. Abdominal fat has been linked to heart concerns and higher blood pressure. For women, a high waist circumference can mean anything above 35 inches, and for men, anything above 40 inches. Because each individual is different, including genetic history, nutrition, physical activity, and body type, your area of focus might not always be the same as another.

Smaller Steps to Greater Health

When targeting your ideal BMI, experts say your initial weight loss goal should be losing 10% of your total weight. It's also important to set a realistic target date; you're not going to change your lifestyle or general health in one week or even one month. True and lasting change takes time and repetition. Introducing the appropriate amount of calories into your daily diet will take trial and error. Experts suggest it can be helpful to start by eliminating one unhealthy meal or food item from your diet a time instead of trying to totally change your diet at once.

Checking with your physician to know your limits as far as physical activity is concerned is important, as is maintaining consistency. Again, smaller steps can help ease you into the lifestyle change you desire. Trying to not be inactive can be easier than trying to immediately go from not exercising to trying to exercise five days a week. Walking three times a week or small forms of aerobic exercise a few times a week is a good starting point on the road to greater well-being.

Information Equals Better Decisions

People are motivated and driven by different things when it comes to health. For some of them it's realizing that they can't perform a physical activity as easily as they once could; others see something on TV that speaks to them in a way that hits home. No matter where your motivation comes from, it's important to get all the information you can before you set out and try and enact your healthy change.

Start by seeking the proper expert advice and using the tools that are available to you—such as BMI, blood pressure, and waist circumference measurements. There are also a number of technological applications that can help you track your weight, remind you to exercise, or figure out how to properly structure your diet. All of these can be valuable resources when it comes to making the small changes that lead to a world of difference.

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Going Beyond the Numbers: Learn How You Can Support Good Cholesterol

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Going Beyond the Numbers: Learn How You Can Support Good CholesterolCholesterol has been a major focus of daily health for many years, especially when it comes to the heart. For a long time doctors and experts focused on a certain set of numbers based on LDL, HDL, and triglyceride levels to assess heart health. But recent studies have shown that cholesterol management is more than just a numbers game.

A Change in Approach

Almost everyone who watches their cholesterol knows there are two different types: LDL, otherwise known as "bad cholesterol", and HDL, known as the "good cholesterol". According to the Mayo Clinic, acceptable ranges for LDL cholesterol consist of anything below 70 mg/dl while anything between 130 mg/dl and 159 mg/dl is borderline high. For the good HDL, the higher the number the better. Healthy ranges consist of anything between 40 mg/dl up to 60 mg/dl.

A recent report released by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, however, gave updated insight into how other potential risk factors—not just cholesterol numbers—play a role in determining your cholesterol health. Cholesterol numbers by themselves sometimes don't always tell the full tale as the same numerical values can bear different meanings for different people.

In order to give a more accurate evaluation, doctors and health experts looked at other factors such as genetics, age, physical activity levels, diet, and blood sugar levels to assess what type of daily support an individual may need. Any one of these factors can raise your risk of heart concerns, which is why it's important not to focus on a single aspect, but rather the big picture of your well-being.

Ways You Can Influence Your Cholesterol Numbers

There are several controllable factors that you can engage in to support not just your cholesterol number readings, but other aspects that go into your health. Diet, for instance, can play a crucial role. Studies have shown that legumes can positively influence your cholesterol numbers. Foods like beans, nuts, peas, and lentils can cut cholesterol by 5%, which, in turn, can cut your risk factors for other heart health concerns by 5%, making a world of difference.

There are also supplementation options for a more natural approach to supporting cholesterol. The clinically tested Bergamot fruit continues to show promise for cholesterol health as well as balancing blood sugar levels. Other ingredients such as folic acid, omega-3 fish oil, and flaxseed have also shown the ability to provide positive daily support when it comes to managing cholesterol.

Depending on your personal variables, exercise is another often-cited factor in influencing cholesterol health. You don't have to dedicate yourself to workouts to see a difference, but adding 30–40 minutes of moderate-intensity workouts three-to-four times a week can support healthy cholesterol and blood pressure ranges according to the American Heart Association.

Other lifestyle components include resisting more obvious bad habits such as smoking and drinking too much alcohol, as well as not monitoring stress levels as they can impact blood pressure and your overall heart health.

It's More Than Just About the Numbers

While many people measure their cholesterol strictly by the numbers, there's much more to it than figures on a piece of paper. Your overall lifestyle—depending on how healthy or unhealthy it is—indirectly affects your heart. However, no matter your age, weight, gender, or family history, it's never too late to enact positive changes starting today that can bear great health rewards tomorrow.

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