I know what you’re thinking. “Really?” you’re muttering incredulously. “Really??! A post about how exercise is good for you? Is that new information? Is the next post about groundbreaking new research that suggests that puppies are, in fact, adorable?”
Well, first of all, please stop hacking into my computer and reading ahead – The Puppy Paradox is a work in progress and I can’t promise it’ll pass peer review in time for next week’s post, so just relax on that one. And second of all, this exercise-is-dandy article has a wrinkle: we’re taking a quick look at the scourge known as insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance happens when your body’s cells have been exposed to insulin for too long (typically when we have damaged ourselves with years of high-sugar or high-carb diets). Tragically, our poor cells get desensitized to insulin, so they stop responding when the body tries to produce energy. It also wreaks havoc with blood sugar regulation and can lead to a whole host of other severe medical issues: hormonal imbalances, abdominal weight gain, elevated triglycerides, and sometimes Type 2 Diabetes. Basically, insulin resistance can have a cascading effect that undermines your body’s ability to regulate itself properly.
Now for the not-so-surprising fix: Exercise is the key to reducing insulin resistance, repairing these damaged cells, and improving blood glucose metabolism. It doesn’t have to be super vigorous exercise, but it has to be consistent – a minimum of 30 minutes, five times a week. Walking, swimming, hiking, and ninja warrior-ing are all great options. If you can combine that with a low-glycemic diet (see some of my previous posts), you can resist insulin resistance, and kick futility to the curb.
Last time, we looked at some of the undesirable effects of eating high-glycemic diets – that is, those that are high in sugars and white flours. We basically agreed that, while sweet things will always hold a special place in our hearts, there are tons of reasons to switch to a low-glycemic diet and make sugary confections a “sometimes food”.
Here’s a quick tip: Don’t click on that link if you don’t want a super-groovy song featuring a bebopin’ owl and some psychedelic dancing fruit stuck in your head all day. But if that’s your thing, click away!
One thing we didn’t talk about was other types of sweeteners – what should we do about those? Artificial sweeteners are generally bad news. They’re in almost every diner in America, but that doesn’t mean they’re safe to eat. Your body doesn’t recognize artificial sweeteners as food, so it doesn’t know what to do with them. They either sit in your digestive system or they permeate your intestinal walls and run around in your blood stream, causing trouble. Studies have linked artificial sweeteners to headaches and nausea, and other research suggests that they can kill off good bacteria in your digestive tract and lower your immune system. And they have that weird aftertaste – am I right?
It’s definitely best to avoid the five FDA-approved artificial sweeteners: Aspartame (brand names NutraSweet® and Equal®), Saccharin (brand name Sweet’N Low®), Sucralose (brand name Splenda®), Acesulfame K (or acesulfame potassium), and Neotame (produced by the NutraSweet Company).
Now the Great News – there are zero-calorie sweeteners that are great for you, and natural!
Stevia, a natural, no-calorie sweetener that comes from the stevia plant, is 100 times sweeter than sugar, so a bottle will last you months, and you won’t have the anxiety that comes with filling your body with chemical-laden artificial sweeteners. Because really, that’s nobody’s thing.
Fall can be a stressful time of year, can’t it? The kids are back to school, you’re back to work following your summer excursion to a Caribbean beach, and the soothing embrace of the holiday season feels hopelessly far away. Wait, did I say “soothing embrace”? I think I meant “existential dread and pressure-packed gift buying”. In that case, we should also change “feels hopelessly far away” to read “looms ominously and approaches at warp speed”. Ah… Fall!
So how can eating well help you get a handle on your active, busy life? Below are five excellent stress-fighting superfoods that can help take the edge off and, as an added benefit, help balance your hormones without adding empty calories to your diet. You’ll be back to shopping for overpriced Halloween costumes with a smile on your face in no time!
1. Oranges. Research has shown that eating an orange can help you relax and return your blood pressure and hormone levels to normal.
2. Dried apricots. These contain both a natural muscle relaxant and magnesium – a known stress reliever.
3. Walnuts, pistachios, and other healthy nuts. In addition to regulating blood pressure, they also provide vitamins B & E.
4. Turkey. Tryptophan can make you sleepy, but it can also beat back anxiety and tension. Just keep your portion on the smaller side to avoid a long nap.
5. Fish. The omega-3 fatty acids in many fish can help regulate adrenaline and cortisol hormone levels, which flush away the lingering feelings of stress.
We have to have a talk, America. You’re infatuated. Love-struck. Beguiled, smitten, and enamored. But it’s not me you’re captivated by (nice as that would be); it’s sugar. Research has shown that the average American eats as much sugar in a week as the average person living 200 years ago did in a year. That’s a heavy-duty crush you’ve got going (well, okay… that we’ve got going – I’m in love with sugar, too).
We all know that too much sugar can be unhealthy, but it’s not just our waistlines that we should be worried about. Diets rich in sugars and white flours – also called “high-glycemic” diets – can also lead to skin problems (such as breakouts, eczema, and psoriasis) as well as more serious conditions (such as type-II diabetes or heart disease). Suddenly, moving up a notch on our belt seems like the least of our worries.
So how can you eat a healthier, low-glycemic diet? Try to lower your intake of high-glycemic foods, such as fruit juices, breads, starchy foods like potatoes, and baked goods. These tend to lack fiber, fat, and protein, all of which help moderate the release of sugar into your bloodstream. Instead, eat more low-glycemic foods, such as oatmeal, beans, vegetables, and other foods with fat, fiber, and protein. Doing so will help keep your blood sugar constant throughout the day. It will also promote slow, steady digestion, so you’ll feel full for longer.
Maybe we can’t completely end our affair with sugar, but we can at least take our relationship a little slower. See other people/nutrients. For example, I think that cute avocado at the grocery store was checking you out…
Last time, we talked about preventing skin breakouts with brushing and exfoliation. But there’s a strong connection between your diet and your skin health, too! Red, irritated skin is caused by inflammation. Some foods can cause inflammation, such as those with lots of saturated fat or trans-fat (so try to limit your exposure to those). Luckily, there are also foods that can actively reduce skin redness and promote overall skin health.
Omega-3 fatty acids are some of the most important nutrients for fighting inflammation. But there’s just one problem: while Omega-3s are for good your overall health and can enrich your skin, your body can’t synthesize them by itself! You need to get them by eating foods that are densely packed with these essential fatty acids. Some of the highest Omega-3 foods are fish: herring, sardines, mackerel, salmon, and halibut.
“But wait!” I hear you cry. “I [don’t eat fish/can’t stand fish/can’t afford to eat fish five times a week]. What are my alternatives?”
Luckily, you can take fish-oil capsules, which are much more economical and convenient than starting a tab at your local fish market. You can also fill up on eggs, turkey, flax seeds, black raspberries, walnuts, canola, and lingonberries – all of which are chock-full of Omega-3s. Focusing on getting more of these essential nutrients in your body will pay huge dividends for your skin. Besides, have you ever had almond lingonberry muffins? Pure heaven.
You already know how important it is to brush your teeth every day (at least, I sincerely hope you already know this). But maybe you didn’t know that brushing is also a great way to keep your skin naturally healthy and vibrant.
Most of the time, skin breakouts are due to either your skin glands producing a little extra oil, some naturally-occurring bacteria getting a little out of control, or the accumulation of dead skin cells. Luckily, gentle brushing for just a few minutes a day can help counteract all of these problems.
Using a long-handled natural bristle brush (which you can find for around $10 online) or a natural loofah sponge, start at your feet using small circles. Work your way up your legs, across your chest, and over your arms, neck, and back. Be sure to avoid sensitive areas like your breasts and face, and don’t brush too hard – a little goes a long way.
This kind of gentle brushing can improve blood and lymph flow, remove dead skin cells, and help keep your skin looking youthful. And it doesn’t take a huge time commitment – you can probably cover your whole body in about two minutes. So consider adding a quick body-brushing regiment to your day, right after brushing your teeth. Just be sure to use two different brushes.
Next time: Learn how Omega-3s can save your skin!