Research Links Ultra-Processed Foods to Overeating, Weight Gain

Those who are trying to combat overeating and achieve a healthy weight often resort to counting calories. This approach, however, is not the best for disease prevention or weight loss, and does not address the negative health implications of eating highly processed foods. 

A recent study published online by Cell Metabolism on May 16, 2019, found that when people ate a diet full of ultra-processed foods, they consumed more calories and gained more weight than when they ate a minimally processed diet. The results highlight the importance of educating yourself on healthy foods, and incorporating them into your diet. 

Many studies show a correlation between the intake of ultra-processed foods and a wide variety of health issues. The rise in obesity and type 2 diabetes has been linked to an increasingly industrialized food system, which favors large scale production of high-yield, inexpensive, agricultural inputs like corn and wheat, which are refined and processed. 

Highly processed foods contain ingredients common in industrial food manufacturing, such as hydrogenated oils, high-fructose corn syrup, flavoring agents, and emulsifiers. They are typically high in calories, salt, sugar and “bad” fats (trans fats and saturated fats). Currently, the majority of calories consumed in America are from ultra-processed foods.   

A research project led by Dr. Kevin Hall at NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases compared body weight changes and calorie consumption for 20 healthy adults, evenly divided between men and women, who ate either an ultra-processed or minimally processed diet for two weeks. The volunteers stayed at the NIH Clinical Center for one continuous month, were randomly assigned a diet for two weeks, and then switched. 

The ultra-processed and minimally processed meals had an equal number of calories, macronutrients, sugars, fiber, fat and carbohydrates. For example, one ultra-processed breakfast consisted of a bagel with cream cheese and bacon, while an unprocessed breakfast was oatmeal with fruits and nuts. Participants could eat as much or as little as they wanted. 

On the ultra-processed diet, participants ate an average of 500 more calories per day, ate faster, and gained 2 pounds during the two weeks on average. On the minimally processed diet, they lost about 2 pounds over the same time period. 

“Though we examined a small group, results from this tightly controlled experiment showed a clear and consistent difference between the two diets,” said Kevin D. Hall, Ph.D., an NIDDK senior investigator and the study’s lead author. “This is the first study to demonstrate causality — that ultra-processed foods cause people to eat too many calories and gain weight.”

That said, the researchers noted the major lifestyle changes that could be necessary to shift to a less processed diet, as well as the socio-economic limitations. 

“We have to be mindful that it takes more time and more money to prepare less-processed foods,” Hall says. “Just telling people to eat healthier may not be effective for some people without improved access to healthy foods.”

Overall, the study reinforces one common piece of advice recommended by most diets, which is to avoid ultra-processed foods in favor of whole foods as often as possible.


Fitness and Nutrition Plans Key to Cancer Survival and Recovery, Says New Report

Newly diagnosed cancer patients that place an emphasis on their physical and psychological wellbeing have a better chance of survival and recovery, according to a report published by a group of charities. It could also help them access treatments which would have otherwise not been tolerated. 

“People are less vulnerable to the side effects of cancer treatment if they are as healthy as possible, physically and psychologically,” read the paper. 

The report by Macmillan Cancer Support, the Royal College of Anaesthetists, the National Institute for Health Research Cancer and Nutrition Collaboration, supported the notion of preventative action and “prehabilitation” as soon as possible. The charities suggest that cancer patients should seek out personalized recommendations to optimize their lifestyle, so maximize their resilience to treatment and improve quality of life. 

Prehabilitation includes quitting unhealthy habits, like smoking, intaking excess alcohol, sugar, and drugs, and adopting a more active lifestyle. Specifically, the new report says that those diagnosed with cancer should increase the percentage of fruits and vegetables in their diet, limit alcohol to a maximum of 14 units a week, maintain a healthy weight, stop smoking, and exercise at least 150 minutes per week. 

The report was backed by a series of studies showing that exercise can reduce chances of survival. For example, Yale University researchers found that a daily brisk walk of just 25 minutes lowered the mortality rate among women with breast cancer by nearly 50%. 

While the mental and physical weight of a diagnosis may make it difficult for people to jump to change their lifestyle for the better before treatment, the study offered expert advice for exercising with pain. 

Recommendations include “knowing your boundaries,” which means stopping before you feel significant stiffness and pain, and being okay with moderate soreness. For pain that will not resolve itself, it is important to connect with a physiotherapist or a personal trainer. 

To get all of the benefits of your workout while staying safe, you must also know the correct form. “Learn the right way to do big moves such as squats and deadlifts, as these are the moves where you can injure yourself or feel more pain,” said chartered physiotherapist Joseph Moore, from the Center for Human Performance. He recommends giving your body a 48-hour wait period between heavy or high impact muscle work. Within that period, you can do exercises that work other muscles, such as swimming.

Moore emphasizes the importance of stretching, which is vital for recovery and also lengthens and builds up muscle. 

“It takes the muscles through a full range of movement and helps blood flow, which flushes out the waste products such as lactic acid that might build up from your exercise programme.” He recommends yoga or Pilates once or twice a week.

“We want to see prehabilitation implemented soon after diagnosis so that people living with cancer feel empowered to improve their health and get the personalised care they need,” added Moore.


Why Positive Self-Talk Improves Athletic Performance

At any given moment, chances are we are experiencing some form of mental dialogue. Most of us wish we could shut off the voices in our head, which is why more and more people are beginning to embrace mindfulness practices intended to quiet the mental chatter, such as yoga and meditation. 

That said, not all self-talk is bad. In fact, cultivating a better relationship with that voice inside our heads can improve our mental health, sense of emotional and spiritual wellbeing, and physical performance. This is why positive self-talk has become a pillar of sports psychology, although it remains one of the hardest skills to master.

For athletes, negative internal messages and thoughts can cause debilitating pre-race jitters and performance anxiety. The first step in cultivating positive self-talk is to flip the script with positive messages. For example, if you are running a long-distance race, instead of telling yourself “I’m tired,” you may replace the phrase with “you’ve prepared for this and are strong enough to finish this race.” 

These seemingly inconsequential thoughts you whisper to yourself become self-fulfilling prophecies. It turns out that your brain has the power to alter your physical limitations. 

In a 2013 study, four self-chosen motivational phrases led 24 volunteers to last an average of 18% longer in a cycling test to exhaustion. The self-talk group also felt that the exercise was easier -- based on the fact that the rating of perceived exertion on a 10-point scale increased at a slower pace than the control group. 

A newer study shows that motivational self-talk, particularly when it is in the second person, can improve athletic performance, as outlined by Runner’s World

Researchers at Bangor University measured the time it took 16 cyclists to complete 10-kilometers, as well as their power output and rating of perceived exertion. During the first trial, they talked to themselves in the first person (“I”), and in the second race, they talked to themselves in the second person (“you”). 

When addressing themselves in the second person, the cyclists completed the 10K time trial an average of 2.2% faster (17:48 versus 17:24). Their perceived level of exertion was the same in both trials. 

To explain why the cyclists performed better with the second person mental dialogue, James Hardy, Ph.D., lead researcher, told Runner’s World that the advantage could be attributed to “self-distancing.” This distancing perspective helps one “stand back and observe what is going on, akin to being in the balcony looking down on the dance floor rather than on the dance floor itself. This promotes clearer thinking, better choices, and enhanced performance.” By taking a step back and assuming the perspective of a supporting onlooker, athletes gain a better self of willpower and self-control. 

The researchers added that individuals with bigger egos, or those who score high for narcissism, user more first-person pronouns, and may not benefit from the self-distancing perspective. 

Mitchell Greene, Ph.D., a sport psychologist in Haverford, Pennsylvania, recommends that athletes prepare a list of second person statements, and have a game plan for when to use them. 

“The more prepared you are for the physical and psychological dips you will experience, the more quickly you can go to your self-statements, the less possibility that you will let physical fatigue, the performance of other runners, self-doubt, and negative thoughts slow you down,” he added.


How to Reset Your Internal Clock and Reboot Your Sleep Cycle

As much as we love adventure and novelty, most of us crave a sense of groundedness in routine and the certainty that comes with a predictable cycle. Much of this can be attributed to our cyclical nature as humans, with science just now starting to uncover the meaning behind why we sleep for roughly one-third of our lives.

We all know how rejuvenating a good night’s sleep in our own bed feels, and conversely, how off putting a terrible sleep can be for our mood, productivity, motivation and lifestyle choices. One bad night’s sleep can serve as the first domino, throwing off a circadian rhythm that enables your body to automatically wake up and go to sleep, without the aid of an alarm clock, prescriptions, or widely used over-the-counter sleep medications.

Your Body’s Internal Clock

The circadian rhythm is a biological mechanism that not only controls the sleep-wake cycle, but also the hormones that are released for ovulation and digestion. Your “master body clock,” made up of roughly 20,000 nerve cells known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), greatly influences the circadian rhythm.

The SCN is affected by natural light from the sun, as well as unnatural light sources like blue light from digital screens. During the day, the SCN picks up the cue that it’s daylight and time to energize, while at nighttime, when the sunlight dims, it sends a signal to the body to produce and secrete more melatonin hormone, which aids in sleep.

When we add unnatural light before bed, regardless of how tired we were prior, the SCN will inhibit the production of melatonin, keeping us awake and unable to undergo the vital functions that occur during sleep, such as cell repair and detoxification.

Alongside putting down your phone and laptop before bed, there are various things that you can do to reset your clock, helping you lock in deep sleep and go throughout your day with ease.

Get natural light first thing in the morning.

Opening the blinds or stepping outside right when you wake up will help signal your body to halt the production of melatonin and signal the adrenal glands to start producing cortisol, according to Susan Blum, M.D., MPH, assistant clinical professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, as cited by Mind Body Green.

Research has also demonstrated that morning or not, prolonged exposure to natural light can help reset your internal clock. A study from the University of Colorado showed that one weekend camping trip reset the body’s internal clock, and debunked the idea that some of us are “night owls.”

Daylight simulation alarm clock.

As an alternative to natural light, the next best thing could be a natural light alarm clock. These daylight simulation clocks kick into gear a half hour before wake up time, emitting a soft glow and steadily growing to full brightness by your indicated wake up time. This is a great option for those with non-traditional work schedules, or those who live in a room without easy access to natural light.

Consider stress reduction techniques and exercises.

Cortisol, nature’s built-in alarm system, elevates in times of stress. Chronically high levels of cortisol can lead to sleep disorders and other detrimental health issues.

There are countless ways to reduce stress, from simply breathing and going outside throughout the day, to getting more creative with activities that suit you personally, such as practicing an instrument or gardening.

While high intensity workouts are effective in reducing stress, they are best performed in the morning or early afternoon, as they increase cortisol and can, therefore, disrupt your natural sleep cycle.

Go light on dinner.

Eating a heavy meal before bed may not only lead to indigestion, but can get in the way of your body’s natural process of producing serotonin and melatonin. Meals particularly heavy on fats and sugars should be avoided late at night. 

Melatonin-rich foods, such as cherries, are good options for a night-time snack, as well as tryptophan-containing foods like beans, oats and pumpkin seeds.


Celery Juicing: The Real Deal or a Fad?

While juicing is nothing new to the health and wellness industry, the unprecedented take-off of celery juice has turned the water-filled, low-calorie vegetable into an overnight sensation. Celery juicing has driven the average price of a carton of celery juice from just $20 at the start of 2019, to more than $60 in early April, per Produce Retailer.

The popularity of celery juicing can be largely attributed to “medical medium” Anthony William, who recently published his book “Celery Juice: The Most Powerful Medicine of Our Time Healing Millions Worldwide.” He advises drinking 16 ounces of celery juice each morning on an empty stomach.

Alongside celebrity endorsements, William has gained widespread fame, spurring hundreds of thousands of #CeleryJuice hashtags on Instagram. 

Williams has been touting celery juice since the 70s, citing its ability to address “all manner of ills—mental, physical, spiritual, emotional" because celery juice is "alkalizing, enzyme-rich, electrolyte-enhancing, liver-repairing, blood-sugar-balancing, antiseptic and more,” he says. He attributes the elixir’s ability to heal to “undiscovered sodium subgroups,” or “sodium cluster salts,” which he says cannot be obtained by eating whole celery, and flushes out toxins, dead pathogens, pathogenic neurotoxins and debris from the body, per Mind Body Green.

Celery juice enthusiasts rave about how their morning ritual has cleared chronic health issues such as brain fog, anxiety, Crohn’s disease, joint pain and multiple sclerosis.

While there is no shortage of booming reviews on celery juice, since the reviews are anecdotal, largely based on personal experiences shared online, some skeptics demand more controlled research on celery juicing before making any big claims. That said, there is supportive research on the phyto-chemicals in celery, which have been shown to help reduce blood pressure and inflammation, and fight against oxidative stress, as noted by HealthLine.

Choosing celery juice in place of a higher-calorie, or more sugar-dense drink, smoothie or snack could also help individuals shed pounds, achieve clearer skin, and curb their appetite.

Celery juice itself contains Vitamins A, B-2, B-6, C and K, as well as folate, calcium, potassium, sodium, magnesium, phosphorus, electrolytes, water and other vitamins and minerals. Given its electrolyte content, and the fact that celery is 95% water, drinking it absolutely aids in hydration -- which has its own multitude of benefits.

Few studies have looked into whether celery juice itself improves one’s health. Rather, they have focused on the health benefits of specific nutrients in celery, particularly apigenin and luteolin, per Medical News Today.

Research suggests that these powerful antioxidants can help ease asthma and rhinitis, and may offer protection against certain brain diseases and neurodegeneration, as well as halt the growth of some types of cancer cells in animal studies, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and improve cardiovascular health.

The chemical nutrients called phytonutrients contain the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties raved about online.

It’s important to note that when celery is juiced, it loses its fiber content, which provides a wealth of benefits for functions such as digestion and blood sugar stabilization.

Ultimately, the simple act of drinking the juice, widely believed to improve health outcomes, can spark the placebo effect, shown to sharpen focus and lift energy levels.

Critics note that the quick-fix mentality, while appealing to many, goes against the fact that there is no food in isolation that is a cure-all. Individuals should continue to eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and consult their trusted nutritionists and registered specialists to address their unique situation.

While drinking the juice of a bundle of celery stocks a day likely won’t hurt you, most doctors recommend loading up on all types of fresh vegetables, including a diverse group of leafy greens.


Why Do Muscles Shake After a Workout?

While it may feel alarming to experience muscle shakes after a workout, most of the time it is completely normal. Involuntary muscle shaking is typically caused by muscle fatigue or low blood glucose.

Muscle trembles after a workout can indicate that you are just not used to the level of intensity of your previous exercise, and therefore your body is not yet able to support that level of exertion without experiencing fatigue.

The means by which your muscles move efficiently is through different motor units, a group of muscles and a motor nerve in the spine, that work together to create a smooth muscle contraction. When you work out when you are tired, malnourished, or exerting above your ability level, some of the motor units simply cease to function and lead to shaking, as explained by Dr. Loren G. Martin, professor of physiology at Oklahoma State University, as cited by LiveStrong.

This is why we tend to get the shakes in or after a barre or Pilates class. Contrary to popular belief, our muscles don’t tremble during these exercises because we haven’t used them, but because we are isolating them more than we do in other forms of exercise, and therefore they become fatigued more quickly.

Working out on an empty stomach could also be the culprit. If your body does not have enough nutrients to fuel your muscles, your level of glucose, or blood sugar, will be depleted. This condition is known as hypoglycemia, and may lead to muscle trembles.

“This is the same concept as the blood and muscle glucose availability,” explains Lauren Kanski, a NASM-certified personal trainer based out of New York, as cited by Mind Body Green. “Working out fed versus fasted can make a huge difference in glycogen depletion. With regards to muscle fatigue, some muscle fibers tire faster than others, which causes irregular contractions, or shaking."

When muscles eventually rest, the shaking should stop.

So while the shakes may feel off-putting, they may actually be a sign of a successful workout and may indicate that we are growing stronger. Kanski notes that the idea behind strength training is to damage our tissue so that the body can regenerate new, stronger, and more durable tissue. That is the reason our bodies become sore.

If you wish to stop muscle trembling, the easiest way would be to lower the intensity of your workout until you are able to strengthen your muscles to a higher level. Another option would be to consider lowering the number of reps you perform per set, or increasing the length of time between your sets.

Eating a nutritious meal at least an hour before your workout can also help prevent muscle shaking. In particular, snacks high in carbohydrates or natural sugars, such as peanut butter or a glass of orange juice, can ease muscle shaking from hypoglycemia.

Other factors that may contribute to shaking after exercise include consuming excessive amounts of alcohol, alcohol withdrawal, caffeine intake, or other medications. Individuals experiencing stress and anxiety may also see it manifested in their body through trembles. In rare cases, a medical disorder that affects the nerves, such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease, can be behind muscle trembles.


The Cancer-Fighting Properties in Cruciferous Vegetables

A growing body of evidence supports the benefits of a diet rich in natural foods. Emphasizing fruits and vegetables while steering clear of processed foods, meat and sugary products, can radically decrease our chances of getting sick while supporting optimal health and longevity.

One family of vegetables, however, is particularly cut out to help us fight cancer, according to various reports. These nutrient-rich foods are not only high in carotenoids, vitamins C, E and K, folate, minerals and fiber, but they also contain a group of sulfur-containing substances called glucosinolates that are broken down to form biologically active compounds such as indoles, nitriles, thiocyanates and isothiocyanates (ITCs).

Compound Found in Broccoli, Radishes and Other Veggies Used to Slow Tumor Growth

A recent study published by Science showed that the disease-fighting ingredient known as indole-3 carbinol (I3C) and found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, was able to inhibit tumor growth by impacting a cancer-causing gene called WWPI.

By analyzing another gene called PTEN, which aids in stopping tumor growth but gets shut off in some individuals, researchers found that the WWP1 releases an enzyme that stops PTEN from functioning as it should.

That’s where the I3C ingredient in cruciferous vegetables comes into play. Researchers found that it could serve as a potential antidote to the detrimental effects of the WWPI gene, by stopping WWPI from working and aiding PTEN in slowing tumor growth.

While the study notes that to get the full benefit, you’d have to eat six pounds of raw cruciferous vegetables, Yu-Ru Lee, PhD., author of the paper, says that it “paves the way toward a long-sought tumor suppressor reactivation approach to cancer treatment.”

The study helps support previous research that highlights the cancer-fighting properties of these vegetables. According to The National Cancer Institute, the indoles and isothiocyanates in cruciferous vegetables have been found to inhibit the development of cancer in animal organs including the bladder, breast, colon, liver, lung and stomach.

In a blog post, Joel Fuhrman, MD, cited various studies that showed ITC-rich cruciferous vegetables protected against cancer. For example, one study found that 28 servings of vegetables per week lowered the risk of prostate cancer by 35%, while just three servings of cruciferous vegetables per week decreased risk by 46%. Another study showed that one serving of cruciferous vegetables per day lowered the risk of breast cancer by more than 50%.

The cruciferous vegetable family includes greens such as kale, broccoli, Brussesl sprouts and bok choy, as well as cauliflower, watercress, radishes, cabbage, and more.


Productivity, Intelligence, Immunity: 3 Overlooked Benefits of Yoga

The ever-increasing popularity of yoga around the world has transformed the practice into something once thought to be reserved for yogis of the Far East or hippies of the counterculture into a widely-accepted workout routine.

According to a recent survey by Yoga Alliance and Yoga Journal, the number of Americans practicing yoga increased by 50% from 2012 to 2016, to a whopping 36 million people.

While most people become hooked on yoga because of its ability to stabilize and enrich one’s mental, physical and emotional lives, there are various side effects of a regular yoga practice that are lesser known.

Yoga increases workplace productivity.

Research demonstrates that yoga practices in the workplace can increase the well being of employees and as a result, boost productivity.

A National Survey found that more than 55% of people who practiced yoga reported improved sleep. Better sleep often translates to more clarity and focus. Meanwhile, 85% of yoga practitioners reported reduced stress levels, helping them better manage their time and work.

Yoga also rids the body of productivity-harming aches and pains and gives individuals the ability to focus for longer periods of time without getting distracted. More positivity and kindness exchanged with co-workers doesn't hurt either.

Yoga makes you smarter.

A study published by the Journal of Physical Activity and Health found that yoga exercise boosted cognitive performance by leading to superior reaction times, and increased accuracy for practitioners when compared to others who had done another aerobic exercise or no exercise.

"While most exercise gives you a choice to either zone in or zone out, yoga encourages you to return to the present and pay attention," explains Dr. Zimmerman, M.D., a physician and Sonima meditation instructor, as cited by Shape. "This mindful awareness has been correlated with structural changes in the brain, including growth in the prefrontal cortex, a brain region associated with executive function, working memory, and attention."

Research from Harvard Medical School on the benefits of mindfulness, a meditative state aimed for in a yoga practice, backs this point. Scientists compared brain scans of long-term meditators with those of a control group and found that the former “had more grey matter in the frontal cortex, which is associated with working memory and executive decision making.”

Yoga boosts your immunity.

According to WebMD, up to 90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints. Negative emotions and chronic stress are known to manifest in physical ailments and disease in the body. Yoga reduces stress while increasing positive emotions countering the negative health effects of anxiety and tension.

One study out of Norway found that by influencing gene expression, yoga can strengthen the immune system at the cellular level.

In particular, cancer patients who practice yoga are said to gain strength, raise red blood cells, experience less nausea when going through chemotherapy, and have a better overall wellbeing, as noted by MindBodyGreen.


The Health Benefits of Cayenne Pepper

Not only is cayenne pepper a popular spice that can be used to jazz up a variety of meals, it also offers a great number of health benefits, ranging from better digestion to improved immunity.

Cayenne pepper, a type of chilli pepper brought from Central and South America to Europe in the 15th Century, has been used medicinally for thousands of years, per Healthline. Cayenne contains a variety of antioxidants and vitamins. Its active ingredient, capsaicin, is what gives the peppers their healing properties -- as well as their fiery taste.

Cayenne pepper has been used for its ability to boost digestion and help avoid stomach aches, gas and cramps. Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, an ancient system of medicine from India, both recommend cayenne to stimulate the flow of stomach secretions and saliva, per Organic Foods. It also facilitates the production of digestive enzymes that help break down food and toxins, per Dr. Axe, citing reputable sources.

As for weight loss and weight management, many studies show that cayenne pepper may reduce hunger, and help individuals eat less and feel satiated longer. One study found that individuals who drank a beverage with capsaicin ate 16% less than those who didn’t, while another found that it reduced the production of the hunger hormone ghrelin. Cayenne has also been shown to increase metabolism, through a process called diet-induced thermogenesis.

Various studies indicate that capsaicin may serve as an anti-cancer agent. The capsaicin in cayenne pepper may reduce the risk of cancer by attacking different pathways in the cancer cell growth process, per Healthline. Studies have demonstrated that the active ingredient can slow the growth of cancer cells and in some instances cause cell death for a range of cancers including prostate, pancreatic and skin. It’s important to note however, that human studies are needed before any conclusion can be made.

Other findings support cayenne’s use in lowering blood pressure and improving blood circulation, reducing pain including headaches and arthritis, boosting the body’s ability to protect itself against sickness and disease, alongside other healing properties.