The hormonal shifts experienced during menopause can have an effect on your nutritional needs.  Today we’re discussing some health issues that could develop throughout menopause, and how you can protect yourself through diet and exercise.

Cardiovascular Disease
Estrogen has a protective effect against heart disease.  Decreased estrogen production following natural or surgical menopause is associated with an increased risk for heart disease.

Nutritional Tips:
  • Avoid trans fats- found in hydrogenated oils
  • Decrease saturated fat intake- less than 15 grams per day
  • Maintain a healthy weight

High Cholesterol
During menopause “bad” lipids like total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides increase while the “good” lipid HDL cholesterol decreases.  The risk for high cholesterol increases with menopausal weight gain.

Nutritional Tips:

Osteoporosis
Bone formation is a process that is directed by hormones.  Bone density begins to diminish in both men and women around age 40, but bone loss speeds up greatly for women after menopause.

Nutritional Tips:
  • Important nutrients for bone health are calcium, vitamin D, and magnesium.
  • Make sure you get plenty of protein to maintain bone mass.
  • Resistance training can increase bone density at any age- it’s never too late to start!

Weight Gain
Androgen hormones such as testosterone are the building blocks for estrogen.  During menopause there is not only a decrease in estrogen, but also a gradual decrease in androgens overall.  Androgens are responsible for building lean muscle mass, which helps to burn calories even when at rest.  That means less androgens can result in a lower resting metabolism.  This combined with the natural slowing of metabolism that occurs as we age can result in weight gain.

Nutritional Tips:
  • Decrease portion sizes
  • Minimize added sugar and oil
  • Load up on fruits and veggies
  • Engage in physical activity most days of the week
 
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Today’s post is a quick reminder to take a time out when you need it.  Simple breathing exercises can help you relax and calm your mood.  A few minutes of breathing meditation can help clear your mind for the rest of your day.  Here are a few ideas:


Shoulder Shrugs:
  • Stand or sit up with a straight spine.
  • Inhale and shrug your shoulders up towards your ears, creating tension.
  • Exhale and roll your shoulder blades down and back.
  • Repeat 4-5 times.

Sharp exhale:
  • Sit in a chair with both feet planted on the floor, close your eyes.
  • Place one hand on your belly, just above your bellybutton.
  • Take a big inhale through your nose.
  • Let the air out of your lungs in short sharp bursts, like you’re trying to blow your nose.
  • Take about 8-10 bursts to empty your exhale entirely.
  • As you’re exhaling feel your hand on your belly move up and in with your bursts.

Countdown
  • Let your eyes float closed, seated or standing.
  • Inhale deeply through your nose, counting to 4 in your head as you do.
  • Retain your breath for a couple of seconds.
  • Exhale completely, counting down from 8 as you do.

Stress reliever
  • Let your eyes float closed, seated or standing.
  • Take a deep inhale through your nose.
  • Open your mouth and exhale completely, making an “ah” sound.

 
What is lymph?  While it kind of sounds like a magical creature that lives in the forest with fairies and elves, it’s actually a vital part of our immune system.

Lymph is a fluid that flows through our whole body in its own special vessels.  This fluid is like a cleaning agent for our insides, it picks up germs and other nasties from our blood and carries them off.  Then it drags the germs through little jellybean-shaped lymph nodes, which house immune cells that can knock those nasty germs out.

It’s important to keep our lymph flowing freely so that our immune system can do its job to fight disease.  Sometimes our lymph becomes stagnant, which can slow down our germ-fighting power.  Here are some ideas to keep your lymph moving:

Exercise:  Lymphatic fluid can’t really travel through the body without pressure from our muscles.  Moving and working your muscles with exercise is the best way to get your lymph flowing smoothly.

Massage:  Instead of moving your own muscles, you could have someone else do it for you!  This has the same effect on your lymph as exercise; it helps move the lymph by putting pressure on your muscles.

Water:  Staying hydrated is also important for maintaining lymphatic flow.  Dehydration can decrease the volume of your lymphatic fluid, meaning less flow will be directed through the nodes, which means less germs knocked out of your system.  Sip water regularly, and try to get around 2 liters each day.
 
Today we’ll discuss what the current research says about the effectiveness of taking a daily multivitamin.  Keep in mind that vitamins and supplements are just as serious as prescription drugs; so don’t take anything new without talking it over with a healthcare professional!

Many people like the concept of a multivitamin.  It seems like a good idea to take a pill to make up for any nutritional gaps in one’s diet.  But does it actually do your body any good?

One 2011 study looked at the multivitamin use and health issues of 182,099 participants over the course of three years.  They found no difference in cancer risk, heart disease, or mortality between the persons who used multivitamins and those who didn’t.

On the other hand, some studies have found that people who use multivitamins have lower rates of disease.  Another study from 2011 found that breast cancer patients who took a multivitamin after treatment had higher survival rates.  These studies also find that people who take multivitamins tend to eat more plant foods and exercise, so it can be hard to tell if the vitamin is adding any additional benefit.

Based on the current research, it appears that a multivitamin does no visible harm or good.  Some people with specific health needs may benefit from a vitamin or herbal supplement.  It’s important to discuss supplements with a Nutritionist, Dietitian, Naturopathic Doctor, Herbalist, or Pharmacist before trying anything new.  For the most part, your dollars will be better spent on wholesome fresh foods instead of pills!
 
High Fructose Corn Syrup, or HFCS, is the inexpensive sweetener of choice for many large food manufacturers.  Companies who make HFCS have spent a lot of money on ad campaigns to convince the public that HFCS has the same effects on your body as sugar.  You may have seen ads like the one below starting a couple of years ago.
New research suggests that our bodies do metabolize HFCS differently than regular sugar.  Here are some reasons why it’s best to avoid this food-like item:

Weight Gain, Abdominal Fat.  Several research studies have shown that HFCS makes rats gain weight faster than table sugar.  In addition to the weight gain the (poor) rats had noticeably bigger bellies than their sugar-consuming friends.  This occurred in cases where each test group ate the same amount of total calories.  This means that the HFCS rats ate the same amount of calories as the other rats, yet they gained more weight.  This suggests that our bodies do process HFCS differently than sugar, and not in a good way!

Increased Heart Disease Risk.  A recent study done by the National Institute of Health found that HFCS could increase several risk factors for heart disease.  In a period of just two weeks, healthy young men and women who consumed 25% of their calories in HFCS experienced higher blood triglycerides and LDL cholesterol.

Increased hunger, decreased satiety.  Several animal studies have shown that rats will eat more calories if they are fed HFCS freely.  In one study from the Saint Louis University Liver Center rats that were fed HFCS ate 10% more calories, and weighed almost 50% more than other rats after 16 weeks.  These HFCS rats are really getting a bum deal!

We’ve discussed before how eating a “clean” diet with very few processed foods is best.  It’s easy to avoid HFCS if you choose to fill your plate with fresh produce, whole grains, and lean protein. 
 
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Today’s post is a simple reminder to listen to your body.  We’ve all got so many distractions in front of us (Gasp- I see one in front of you right now!), it can be easy to ignore what subtle messages your body and brain are sending to you.  Here are some guidelines for reconnecting with the one possession you’ll take with you throughout your whole life:

Take care of yourself above all else.  All of us care for others in our lives.  However it’s impossible to be fully available to someone else if you’re not taking care of yourself.  In Ganga White’s book Yoga Beyond Belief he makes a good argument for self care:

How would you act if you received a wonderful new car when you were sixteen years of age but were told this was to be your only vehicle for your entire lifetime?  How would you care for it?

Don’t ignore those “postcards from your body.”  Pain, aching, fatigue, sleep trouble, skin conditions, digestive issues- all of these are ways your body speaks to you.  Pushing these issues to the side will only make them more persistent.  Work with a healthcare practitioner to uncover the root of your issues.

Remember that you are what you eat.  This old adage really is true!  What you eat never truly leaves you; a large part of it is broken down and absorbed right into you.  Keep this idea in mind when choosing, preparing, and eating your food.  Choose thoughtfully, prepare with love, and eat with awareness.

Meditate.  It can be easy to live life focused on what’s in front of you, remember to take time out to look at where you are.  Meditation does not have to involve sitting silently on a silk cushion in a dark room!  Take a few deep breaths, draw some awareness to how you feel physically, how you feel mentally, and what your surroundings are.  Quieting your brain for a few minutes each day can help sharpen your focus on what’s really important in your life.


To learn more about eating mindfully, check out this post from last month.

 
Keeping a diet diary is a great way to begin mindfully looking at your food intake.  I’ve found that most people modify their diet simply through the act of writing down everything they eat.  When you have to record everything that went on your plate, suddenly that second serving doesn’t feel so necessary!  Here are some different tools you can use to keep a diet diary:

Good ol’ pen and paper.  Try writing down everything you eat either in a journal, or use this template from Your Personal Nutrition Guide here.  After each meal jot down the following information:
  • Foods eaten
  • Approximate quantities
  • Your mood
  • Satiety level: from 0 (starving) to 10 (bursting belly)

Put your camera phone to good use.  If you don’t have time to write it down, just snap a picture of all your meals and snacks.  Scroll through your pictures at the end of each day and contemplate your choices.

Use some newer fangled technology.  There are a whole host of apps available for your smartphone or tablet that can help you keep track of your diet.  Some of them give you neat reports on your total caloric intake, nutrient balance, and other statistics.  There are a lot of these so I am far from familiar with all of them!  Here are some that I have checked out and enjoy:
 
According to the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 9% of Americans over age 50 live with osteoporosis.  Tens of thousands of older adults suffer broken bones as a result of osteoporosis every year.  A diet that supports healthy bones is the best preventative medicine for avoiding this condition.  Here are some guidelines for eating your way towards sturdy skeletal health:

Get your fill of lean protein.  Our bones are constructed of a flexible protein framework that is filled in with hard minerals.  I imagine it like a chain-link fence (protein) with baseballs stuck in every opening (minerals).  If we don’t get enough protein in the diet, that chain-link fence could start to deteriorate!  A good rule of thumb for minimum protein intake is to consume 1 gram of protein for every kilogram of your body weight.  I weight 65 kilograms, so I need to consume a minimum of 65 grams of protein every single day.  For more specific protein recommendations, see your local friendly nutritionist.

Get some mineral-rich foods in every meal.  Calcium is definitely necessary for healthy bones, but it’s not the only mineral we need.  Iron, zinc, phosphorus, and copper are also necessary for maintaining bone density.  Dark leafy greens, beans, and seeds are great sources of all the minerals we need for strong bones.

Get moving!  Daily exercise is an integral part of joint and bone health.  Resistance training directly increases bone density at any age.  This includes weightlifting, resistance band training, or swimming.

Get outdoors.  Vitamin D is a necessary nutrient for bone health.  In addition to eating foods with vitamin D, our skin produces this vitamin naturally when exposed to sunlight.  The time for adequate exposure varies based on where you live, but 15-20 minutes outside will give you a nice dose of D in most locations.  Dairy products, eggs, salmon, and shiitake mushrooms are good food sources of vitamin D.

Adding alkaline foods to your diet can also support healthy bones, read more about a basic diet here.
 
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Caffeine is an organic compound that is found naturally in plant foods such as tea and coffee.  The caffeine content of different beverages can vary greatly based on processing.  An 8 oz cup of green tea has 24-40mg, while 1 oz of espresso has 40-75mg.  Some energy drinks with added caffeine have as much as 200mg in 2 oz!  With the growing popularity of super-charged energy beverages, some consumers are drinking hundreds of milligrams of caffeine each day.  A recent study found that college students consume an average of almost 1500mg per week.

Caffeine has been designated Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by the US Food and Drug Administration.  This means it can be used as an additive in foods, beverages, and over-the-counter drugs.  However some research has shown that caffeine in large doses can have adverse effects including sleeplessness, anxiety, and rapid, irregular heart beat.  A 2010 study found that chronic heavy caffeine use (950mg/day) might negatively affect blood vessels in the brain.

To avoid health complications, keep caffeine consumption under 300mg daily.  If you’d like to replace your caffeinated beverage with something else warm and tasty, there are herbal options available.  Roasted chicory and dandelion root have an earthy flavor like coffee.  Rooibos tea has many of the antioxidants that other teas contain, but without the caffeine.

To see the caffeine content of some common beverages, check out this page from the Mayo Clinic.

This article is a reprint of a post I wrote for Sound Integrated Health News.

 
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The foods that you eat (or don’t eat) have a huge impact on your energy level.  When your body doesn’t have all the materials it needs to generate energy, you’re going to feel like you need a nap.  Here are some guidelines for keeping the spring in your step with nutrition:

Don’t eat sugary foods when you’re starving.
This scenario may sound familiar to you:  it’s mid-afternoon and you haven’t eaten for hours.  You spot a (insert sugary treat here) in the vicinity and scarf it down.  About an hour later you can’t keep your eyes open!  This is due to something called reactive hypoglycemia, the drop in blood glucose that follows a sugar binge on an empty stomach.

When you’re feeling ravenous, go for a snack that is high in protein and contains some fiber.  This will help bring your blood glucose up in a slow and steady manner.  You can find more information on maintaining regular blood sugar in this post from a few weeks ago.

Watch out for excessive caffeine.  Oddly enough, this stimulant has been associated with many cases of fatigue.  Caffeine can interfere with falling asleep and quality of sleep when consumed in excess.  Consume caffeinated beverages in the morning and keep the serving size reasonable.

Eat your B vitamins.  A variety of B vitamins are necessary for energy production in the body.  When B vitamin stores are depleted, the whole thing grinds to a halt.  Here are some good sources of the vitamins you need to get the energy level you want:

  • Thiamin:  Tuna, beans, peas
  • Riboflavin:  Dairy products, soybeans, mushrooms, spinach
  • Niacin:  Meat, fish, mushrooms
  • B5:  Avocado, yogurt, corn
  • B6:  Meat , fish, potatoes, sunflower seeds
  • Folate:  Beans, dark leafy greens
  • B12:  Meat, fish, dairy