Intermittent Fasting

Lose weight brisbaneYou may have heard that in order to lose weight you have to eat small meals throughout the day to “fuel” your metabolism. Most dietitians also recommend never skipping meals, especially breakfast, as the ideal way to eat. But, recently, this advice has been flipped on its head with the emergence of very interesting research on the potential health benefits of fasting.

Frances Ashcroft, a geneticist at Oxford University, has suggested that in order to reduce the increasing rates of diabetes and help people maintain their weight everyone should consider fasting at least one day a week.  She suggests that this will automatically reduce overall calorie consumption without having to measure portions or count calories. It is also easy and cheap! But is there truth behind this claim? Is fasting beneficial and safe?

There is a significant amount of research in the area of calorie restriction and intermittent fasting (IF). Experts believe that fasting intermittently may actually be what our bodies are used to, in terms of evolution. In the caveman days it was rare to have food around all the time like we do now, so we were forced to fast occasionally. When there is food available, our bodies build muscle and fat so we can survive during lean times. Periods of fasting may also allow our bodies to clear out waste and debris. Some scientists believe that if we are constantly eating, the body is unable to truly “cleanse” itself which may be linked to an increase in chronic diseases.

Much of the research on intermittent fasting has been conducted on people of the Muslim faith during Ramadan, a holy period of fasting. A 2011 study looked at fasting’s effect on inflammation markers, a common cause of chronic diseases.  Researchers found that after the fasting period inflammation markers, blood pressure, and body fat decreased significantly all of which could have an effect on long-term health. It has also been found that intermittent fasting may improve insulin sensitivity and may decrease cardiovascular disease markers.

One criticism of intermittent fasting is that our bodies are built to combat the effects of fasts by storing fat during non-fasting periods. So although you may lose weight and have lower inflammation levels during the fast, once you return to normal eating, your body will try to replace what was lost by releasing hormones that cause you to eat more. Fasting may also lead to a slower metabolism because your body will try to conserve energy. A slower metabolism may lead to weight gain once you resume eating normally again.

Is fasting right for you?

For the general population one day of fasting per week or skipping an occasional is probably safe and may be beneficial. If you are diabetic – especially if you are on insulin- fasting is not safe because your blood sugar can drop too low. Pregnant or lactating women should also avoid fasting. For those of us who are generally healthy, fasting may be a good solution to overall lower our caloric intake without much thought. It may also improve insulin sensitivity, reduce our risk of cardiovascular disease and possibly help reduce our weight, although more long-term research is needed on these potential health benefits.

If you are considering trying intermittent fasting, make sure you drink plenty of fluids during fasting periods to prevent dehydration. While you are not fasting, make sure your meals are balanced to help replace any lost nutrients. You also may want to consider taking a multivitamin to ensure you are still getting proper nutrition.

Overall, the preliminary research on the potential health benefits of intermittent fasting is quite interesting. More long-term research is needed to determine if the benefits seen in the short-term studies translate to long-term reduction in chronic diseases.

 

Coconut Oil – is it actually good for you?

Coconut oil has traditionally been seen as an unhealthy oil to use in cooking due to its high content of saturated fat. It is generally accepted that a diet high in saturated fat will raise cholesterol, therefore those with high cholesterol or even a genetic predisposition for high cholesterol have been advised tococonut-oil avoid coconut oil or foods cooked with it.  But, in recent years, several studies have begun to look closer at the health benefits of coconut as an exception to this rule. Coconut may actually be beneficial to health and may not need to be avoided.

Coconut oil is a solid fat at room temperature and it contains 97% saturated fat.  Due to its high saturated fat content, many nutrition experts have recommended avoiding this fat in diet. But, it is important to understand that there are many different types of saturated fats and not all of them act the same in the body. Coconut oil is made up of a type of saturated fat known as medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), such as lauric and myristic acid.  This type of saturated fat is different from the saturated fat found in animal fat which contains long-chain triglycerides which have a different molecular structure from the MCTs.  MCTs have been actually shown to increase HDL (good) cholesterol and lower total cholesterol.  One 2003 study, published in the Journal of Clinical Biochemistry found that virgin coconut oil lowered the total cholesterol, LDL, triglycerides and VLDL in rats. Researchers believe that this is due to the polyphenols in the coconut oil, which may act as an antioxidant, helping lower cholesterol. MCTs may also help reduce body fat by suppressing certain fat-producing genes.

Coconut oil may also be good to keep skin healthy. It is an excellent moisturizer and is high in Vitamin E. It can also be used to moisturize dry hair with split ends. If you are going to use it as a skin moisturizer use a very small amount as it goes a long way. It may also be important to test a small amount on one area just to make sure you don’t have an allergic reaction.

Although this research is positive for improving the reputation of coconut oil, don’t believe all the hype. Coconut oil promoters believe that coconut oil is the miracle cure we have all been waiting for to get rid of all illnesses. Many books, websites, and so-called experts claim that coconut oil can do everything from helping you lose weight to curing pancreatitis, diabetes, and even HIV. Although coconut oil may not be as bad as originally thought, it is not miraculous either, so be cautious with claims that seem too good to be true.

Should you cook with coconut oil?

Coconut oil should be used with caution. Remember that regardless of its effect on cholesterol, it still contains 100 calories per tablespoon, like most fats. Coconut oil is a good option for cooking at high temperatures or for baking, since it is a saturated fat it is more stable when heated to high temperatures.  Due to its plant origin, coconut oil may be a better choice than most animal-derived saturated fats such as lard. Overall, coconut may not be the “evil” food we used to believe it was, but no matter what new research might say about it, moderation is always the key to any healthy diet.

 

Foods that make you go zzzzz….

Anybody that knows me well, knows that I’m a fabulous sleeper. You say the word ‘sleep’ (or pyjamas for that matter) and I’m in la-la land. Despite my innate ability, not being able to get a good night’s rest is an issue that I find many of my clients struggle with on a regular basis. Not only are poor sleep patterns frustrating, but they can also affect our health and weight. Most of us know the feeling of being tired, but not enough shut eye on a regular basis can negatively affect our mood making us irritable, anxious and more prone to becoming depressed. It’s also been shown that inadequate rest slows down our brain activity including our ability to learn, remember things and concentrate while also reducing how we handle stress and maintain a healthy immune system.

Another important reason to get enough sleep is the effect that a lack of sleep has on our waistlines. It seems that when it comes to body weight, it may be that if you snooze – you lose (weight that is). Not sleeping seems to be related to an increase in hunger and appetite and as a result putting on weight. According to a number of recent studies, people who sleep less than six hours a day were almost 30% more likely to become obese than those who slept seven to nine hours. The current research has focused on the link between sleep and the hormones that regulate appetite.

Ghrelin is the hormone that stimulates hunger and leptin is the hormone that signals fullness to the brain and helps to suppress appetite. It seems that sleeping less is associated with a decrease in leptin (the satisfaction secret) and an increase in ghrelin (the hunger gremlin). Having said all this, not only does sleep loss make you hungrier, it also stimulates cravings for those ‘fatty’, ‘sugary’ foods like cakes, chocolate and biscuits to give you a boost of energy to keep you going during the day. Vicious circle.

 

There are a number of things to consider to help you get a restful night of shut eye and eating the right foods can certainly help you to fall asleep faster and improve the quality of your sleep.

THE ‘NO NO’S’

  1. Caffeine – Avoid any caffeinated beverages from 2pm, especially if you are sensitive to caffeine. This includes coffee, tea, energy drinks and coke. Also, don’t forget that chocolate also has caffeine in it (along with lots of sugar) so probably best to keep your intake of this to a limit also!
  2. Large meal close to bed time – Heavy meals high in fat and calories less than three hours before going to bed rev up active digestion and can often leave you feeling uncomfortably full or, even worse, cause heartburn or reflux. Watch out for spicy foods for the similarly  aggravating effects they can have.
  3. Processed  meats – They’re an easy choice for a quick meal but processed meats such as ham, bacon, sausages and smoked meats contain high levels of the amino acid tyramine, which stimulates the brain to give you a buzz.
  4. All liquids 90 minutes before going to bed – It takes about 90 minutes for the body to process liquids, so limit liquids of any kind for at least 90 minutes before bedtime if the need to urinate wakes you up in the middle of the night.
  5. Alcohol  – Do not use alcohol to help you fall asleep. Although alcohol may initially induce sleep, once it wears off, the sleep tends to be broken. Plus, alcohol generally makes you need to go to the loo through its dehydrating effect on the body which means you’ll probably be waking up to pee throughout the night.

 

THE GOODIES

  1. Almonds –   Almonds contain magnesium which promotes both sleep and muscle relaxation, they have the added benefit of being high in protein which can help maintain a stable blood sugar level while sleeping
  2. Banana  – Bananas are an excellent source of magnesium and potassium, which help to relax stressed muscles. They also contain tryptophan which is the amino acid that the body uses to make serotonin and melatonin – the hormones that slow down the traffic in your brain and make you sleepy. (Serotonin also helps to regulate your mood and appetite).
  3. Dairy – Yogurt, milk and cheese contain tryptophan but they also contain another important nutrient – calcium. Calcium is a sleep-inducing vitamin as it relaxes muscles and nerves in the body but it also helps the brain use the tryptophan to manufacture melatonin. Makes a glass of warm milk the perfect little sleeping tablet!
  4. Cherries – This yummy summer fruit have been shown to contain a significant level of the hormone melatonin which will help you to start feeling sleepier at night.
  5. Porridge – The low-GI carbohydrates in a bowl of oats triggers the body to produce insulin which can speed up the release of serotonin leading to sleep. Plus the milk in it will have an added positive effect.
  6. Tea – Yes, avoiding all caffeine in the evening is essential, but some herbal varieties can help get you into sleep mode. Chamomile tea is well known as a helpful and safe sleep aid and green tea (must be decaf) contains theanine which helps promote sleep.

 

SLEEPING PILL OR BEDTIME SNACK?

An all-carbohydrate snack, especially one high in added sugar is less likely to help you sleep. You’ll miss out on the positive effects of tryptophan and you may set your body off on the roller-coaster ride effect of plummeting blood sugar followed by the release of stress hormones that will keep you awake. The best bedtime snack is one that has both low GI (slowly released) carbohydrates, protein and some calcium.

For a good night’s sleep try:

  • a glass of warm milk
  • small bowl of traditional oats made on milk
  • almond butter on a slice of grainy toast
  • grainy cracker (like Ryvita) topped with a small slice of low-fat cheese
  • low fat natural yoghurt with fresh or frozen cherries
  • banana smoothie made on low fat milk

But keep in mind that it takes about one hour for the tryptophan in the foods to reach the brain, so don’t wait until right before bedtime to have your snack.

 

OTHER THINGS TO SNOOZE ABOUT…

  1. Exercise – While exercise is good for you in many ways and can assist with relaxation, if it is done to close to bed time, it can actually stimulate your body too much to allow rest. This happens as a result of the endorphin/adrenaline rush of high intensity exercise and also because of a higher body temperature (a cooler body temperature promotes sleep). Best advice is to try to schedule your exercise in the morning or at least five hours before your scheduled bedtime (takes about that long for your body to cool down properly).
  2. Stress – If you have a lot on your mind, consider keeping a journal next to your bed so you can scribble down any thoughts that won’t let your mind settle.
  3. Tiredness – It might seem obvious but go to bed when you are tired. Don’t wait until Desperate Housewives is finished because there is a good chance that you will start to feel more awake again which will make it more difficult to get to sleep.

 

Let me know how you go with these tips and if anybody has any other tips that have worked for them, please feel free to comment below.

Sweet dreams!

Julie.