Friday, April 28, 2006

Beans, beans, the magical- Oh stop it.

I received an inquiry from the illustrious T -- What's so great about beans? First of all, you can call them "legumes" and sound almost scientific. But more importantly, they are one of the most well-rounded foods on the planet.

My mom is a vegetarian, and she advised me that if I ever decided to do the same, I should always include lots of beans in my diet. They provide a good source of much-needed protein. (Very important if you've cut meat out of your diet.) They are also rich in complex carbohydrates and fiber.

In terms of nutrition, you can find Niacin, Thiamin, Riboflavin, B6 vitamins, and folate. A cup of cooked beans contains more potassium than a banana. In fact, beans have more calcium and iron per cup than three ounces of cooked meat, but contain no cholesterol and has fewer calories.

Research has also found that the seed coat of beans contain valuable anti-oxidants. Some believe beans have a perfect nutrient base for people interested in weight loss. They also aid in reducing cholesterol, improve digestion and, aid in cancer prevention.

With so many great things going for it, what's stopping you from gettings more legumes into your diet? For some it's the gas. For others, it's "What the heck do I do with 'em??" I'll cover those in the next segment...

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Use it or lose it -- the importance of fitness

It's a sad fact of life that the muscles you don't use will become weak and useless. The numerous crunches I used to do doesn't mean I'll have strong abs in the years to come, it has to be maintained. If you want to stay strong even in your retirement years, then you need to emphasize fitness in your life now.

I am guilty of being lazy. I'm lucky in that my metabolism keeps me skinny, but that doesn't mean I won't have problems when I'm older. Exercise strengthens not only your muscles, but your bones and sense of well being too. Regular exercise will keep you from turning into that stooped over, shuffling old grumpy person. It will keep you out of that retirement home that much longer. There are many keys to longer life, and fitness is definitely one of them.

One of the things I'd like to achieve with this blog is not only the dissemination of information, but for me to grow my own awareness as well. My biggest fear in life is becoming decrepit and useless. I do not want to depend on others to help me live my own life. To that end, I am striving to be as healthy as I can. One of my biggest hurdles is laziness. I would much rather be sitting on my ass writing comments in blogs than to be huffing and puffing on the treadmill. As I find things to inspire me to stay active and fit, I will share them. I'm sure there are many of you out there who need it too.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

What's the big deal about antioxidants?

To explain the usefulness of antioxidants, one must understand free radicals. In addition to being a musical band (You have heard of the Free Radicals, haven't you? No? That's okay, I don't like them anyway.), they are also a source of harm for your body.

Free radicals are atoms or groups of atoms with an odd (unpaired) number of electrons and can be formed when oxygen interacts with certain molecules. Once formed these highly reactive radicals can start a chain reaction, like dominoes. Their chief danger comes from the damage they can do when they react with important cellular components such as DNA, or the cell membrane. Cells may function poorly or die if this occurs. To prevent free radical damage the body has a defense system of antioxidants.

Antioxidants are molecules which can safely interact with free radicals and terminate the chain reaction before vital molecules are damaged. Although there are several enzyme systems within the body that scavenge free radicals, the principle micronutrient (vitamin) antioxidants are vitamin E, beta-carotene, and vitamin C. Additionally, selenium, a trace metal that is required for proper function of one of the body's antioxidant enzyme systems, is sometimes included in this category. The body cannot manufacture these micronutrients so they must be supplied in the diet.

Vitamin E: dl-alpha tocopherol. A fat soluble vitamin present in nuts, seeds, vegetable and fish oils, whole grains (esp. wheat germ), fortified cereals, and apricots. Current recommended daily allowance (RDA) is 15 IU per day for men and 12 IU per day for women.

Vitamin C: Ascorbic acid is a water soluble vitamin present in citrus fruits and juices, green peppers, cabbage, spinach, broccoli, kale, cantaloupe, kiwi, and strawberries. The RDA is 60 mg per day. Intake above 2000 mg may be associated with adverse side effects in some individuals.

Beta-carotene is a precursor to vitamin A (retinol) and is present in liver, egg yolk, milk, butter, spinach, carrots, squash, broccoli, yams, tomato, cantaloupe, peaches, and grains. Because beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A by the body there is no set requirement. Instead the RDA is expressed as retinol equivalents (RE), to clarify the relationship. (NOTE: Vitamin A has no antioxidant properties and can be quite toxic when taken in excess.)*

We'll start with this brief overview. In later posts we'll go into greater detail about how damaging free radicals can be on a cellular level -- things like cancer and heart disease.

*Borrowed from an article from Rice University.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Smoking Rant

I will never understand smokers. Never in a million years will I ever understand why anyone in their right minds would choose to inhale poisons. There is NO redeeming value to smoking cigarettes. None whatsoever.

It's not just the lung cancer. It drastically increases your chances of practically every other kind of cancer. It increases your blood pressure by causing fat to narrow your arteries. Is cancer and heart attacks not enough for you? How about increased heart disease, strokes, aneurysms, cataracts, bone thinning, hip fractures, and peptic ulcers? How about a long, slow, and painful death?

I can understand 50 years ago nobody knew any better. It was just the cool thing to do and it made you feel good. But now, what excuse does anyone have? They are taught in schools at an early age how bad smoking is for you. Yet why do these people end up lighting up anyway? Is it because the "cool kids" are doing it? What makes them so cool? They're killing themselves early, what's so cool about that?

In my opinion smokers are just stupid. Plain and simple. If you were a hick who grew up with an entire family that smoked, then sure I can see why you'd start too. You didn't know any better. But the vast majority of smokers do know better. They know perfectly well all the poisons that each cigarette contains. And yet they continue. I have no sympathy for these idiots. Oh boo hoo it's so addicting. Well what would you rather be, alive and cranky, or dead? If you choose the route of death, then please, do me a favor and just slice your own throat right now. The world doesn't need people like you.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Vitamin E - the good twin and the evil twin

Most people know that taking Vitamin E daily is good for maintaining health because of its many functions, including:

  • Has an important role in cellular respiration of muscles, especially the cardiac muscle.
  • Prevents peroxide formation by being an anti-oxidant.
  • Protects all the other fat-soluble vitamins against oxidation.
  • Reduces scar tissue formation both internally and externally, this is why a lot of creams and ointments contain vitamin E.
  • Increase formation of new blood vessels around damaged areas.
  • Protects and ensures permeability of the capillary system.

However what you may not know is that there are two commonly found forms of Vitamin E in the market -- natural and synthetic. Synthetic vitamin E has been found to be virtually ineffective. Some suggest that it may even be potentially harmful, though I found no conclusive reading on that. Suffice it to say that you are much better off with natural vitamin E.

You can tell the difference by reading the label. Synthetic vitamin E is listed as "dl-alpha tocepherol". Natural vitamin E is listed as "d-alpha tocepherol". The difference is in the prefix. One way to remember it is that "dl" could stand for "don't like". You want the d-alpha, not the dl-alpha. Why pollute your body with synthetic crap? Natural is always better.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Don't forget about mom

Mother's Day is getting closer and closer... have you thought about what you're going to do for dear old mom? There's always the gift of sugar and fat, otherwise known as chocolate. There are lunches or dinners out at a favorite restaurant, but don't forget that, literally, everyone and their mother will be there too.

Sometimes you don't need to do anything fancy. Sometimes all you need a simple reminder that you love her, even if you're thousands of miles away. Flowers are a great solution. If you can't bring them over yourself, have them sent! Order Mothers Day flowers online from companies like DotFlowers. They make it so easy.

But if worst comes to worst and you can't afford to buy anything, just remember you can't buy love. All she really needs to know is that you care. Go for a visit, or call her if you can't be there in person. That's all it takes to show mom that she's appreciated.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Evil That is Trans Fats

There is much eeeeeevil to be found in our food. It's everywhere, so you must remain vigilant.

The Basics
The food industry discovered trans fats, I think, around the 70s. Maybe earlier. Their popularity and pervasiveness were because the substance is cheap to produce and has a very long shelf life. Food products using trans fats have a longer shelf life than their natural counterparts. This is why you'll see this stuff in almost all cookies, crackers, cereals, cake mixes and other pre-packaged goods. Trans fats are also called "partially hydrogenated oils".

How Bad Can They Be?
Trans fats are created by taking a regular oil, such as soybean oil, and inserting a metal into its molecular structure, effectively changing the way it behaves. Food manufacturers love to tout that it's a "vegetable oil" and has no cholesterol. It's how trans fats gained in popularity after society deemed animal fats as bad for your health. However trans fats are no better than animal fats. In fact, in may be worse. Trans fats (such as margarine) stay solid at room temperature just like butter. They also cling to your arteries just like butter. Trans fats causes an imbalance in your cholesterol levels. While it adds no cholesterol of its own, it causes a decrease in your good cholesterol and an increase in your bad cholesterol. Also, because the hydrogenation process changes it at a molecular level, it is no longer food. Your body isn't sure what to do with it, so it just stores it somewhere. Over the long term these toxic stores start to encourage cancer growth. You're better off with lard than you are with this stuff. At least your body can process it properly.

How Do I Choose My Foods?
The food's packaging is your friend. Ignore the labels in the front, go straight to the list of ingredients. If you see "partially hydrogenated oil" anywhere in the list, put it back on the shelf, you don't want it. The reason I say ignore the labels in the front is because they love to print "0 Trans Fats!" on it. However the FDA allows manufacturers to make this claim so long as the percentage of trans fats in the food is under a certain number. If you look at the proclamation in the front, you'll see "per serving" in tiny letters. This is part of the FDA's stipulation. For example, I looked at a container of Promise (or maybe it was I Can't Believe It's Not Butter) and it had the zero trans fats claim in front. Upon inspecting the ingredients list, I saw partially hydrogenated oil listed. Very sneaky. Here's a quick list of foods to watch out for.

How Come This Information Isn't More Common?
The food processing industry is HUGE. Enormous. They feed billions of people and make billions of dollars. They have strong lobbies in Congress. They have the capital to convince the masses that trans fats will save you. Don't believe their hype. Read your ingredients before buying.

Friday, April 21, 2006

On a mission

Throughout my kid years, puberty and 20's, I was pretty much indestructible. I could eat all kinds of crap and have nothing to show for it. I had no thoughts for the future. I lived on Twinkies, cookies, frozen dinners, and microwave popcorn.

Since I'm no longer in my indestructible 20's, I've started thinking a lot about the future. A few random articles caught my eye and I started researching things. So many things have long-term effects. The food industry has been taking shortcuts for decades. Whatever made them more money would be what they would market. As much as they like to advertise that they have you in mind, the bottom line is they only have their profits in mind. I trust nothing that they say anymore.

But they've got big, big marketing budgets, so it's up to little folks like me to spread the truth. Make knowledge about good health easier to find. I see elderly folks who are stooped over and barely able to shuffle one foot in front of the other. I see others become disease-ridden and unhappy. I do not ever want to be that way. To that end I will do everything I can to avoid the slow, painful death of poor health.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Inflation? Whatever.

My dad used to tell me about the days when he was a boy he could buy a loaf of bread for a nickel. Now you're lucky if you can find a cheapy store-brand loaf on sale for a dollar. You know, the kind with no nutrients left in it? I've never understood inflation. Things just get more and more expensive all the time, and I just don't get it.

I recently read something that said our money used to be backed by gold and silver, and that the same amount of gold and silver can still buy you the same amount of bread, or whatever, as back in the day when my dad was still a boy. So there are a lot of companies that tell you you should invest in gold, platinum or silver. Why? I guess because it's stable. I dunno. I personally hate finance. I can understand "asset diversification" a bit, but beyond that it gets into complications that I don't really care about. So in the end I'm just sticking to my 401K and whatever the financial advisors think. Why should I bore myself with such details when someone else can do it better?