Friday, October 25, 2013

The Quicker Picker-Upper

Energy drinks have been sweeping the news world-wide.  From proposing a new tax in France to declarations of dangerous side-effects in Nigeria, the gig is up for manufacturers of drinks that claim to give you increased energy, alertness and output.

What is it about energy drinks that have sent over 20,000 people to the emergency room from 2007 to 2011? Well, there are several reasons.

1. Caffeine. Too much caffeine can cause an increase in blood pressure. When drinking in excess, it can also give you heart burn, ulcers, tremulousness and insomnia. For people who are hypertensive, high levels of caffeine will cause blood vessels to constrict and blood pressure to rise rapidly which can lead to a stoke. Consumption of up to 400 mg a day is considered a safe amount in healthy adults, but children should limit caffeine intake to 100 mg a day and pregnant or nursing women to 300 mg a day.

2. Sugar. A typical energy drink contains around 50-60 grams of sugar. This is about 10-12 teaspoons of sugar. Remember to look at the serving sizes; oftentimes you are drinking more than one serving.  The American Heart Association recommends no more than 100 calories a day (6 teaspoons) from added sugar for most women and no more than 150 calories a day (9 teaspoons) for most men.

3. Alcohol. The risk of mixing alcohol with energy drinks is that you may be unaware of how intoxicated you are and attempt to drive or drink to extreme excess. Alcohol also contributes to dehydration. 

4. Too much, too soon. Understand the strength of these products. When consumed quickly, the caffeine and sugar rush into your blood stream, raise your blood sugar and blood pressure and cause your heart rate to increase. Drinking three energy drinks in an hour is equivalent to 15 cups of coffee.

5. Dehydration. Energy drinks have been known to promote dehydration and, for that reason, should not be used especially while exercising.

6. Unknowns. Stimulants such as ephedrine, guarana, and ginseng enhance the effects of caffeine and there is not sufficient evidence that exists to concur the safety of their intake. Many energy drinks contain a large dose of B vitamins that can lead to brain or nerve damage if taken in excess.

How, then, are we going to get the energy we need to work all day and exercise and spend time with the family?

You can start by getting some good old-fashioned ZZZ’s. Ideally 7-8 hours a night. Eat a well balanced diet that will keep you fueled throughout the day. Not sure how? Ask a registered dietitian. Drink plenty of water all day to keep you hydrated. Get in the habit of carrying a water bottle with you wherever you go.  Limit the amount of caffeine in your diet to less than 400 mg a day to prevent unwanted side-effects that could interfere with your work, peace of mind and health.

If your child has been consuming energy drinks, please talk to them about the potential dangers and encourage them to make better choices that will help them rather than potentially harm them in the long run. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Waste Not, Want Not

I could never work in the food industry. Not because of the endless temptations or the starchy uniforms. It is because I could not handle seeing all of the food that is wasted during production, distribution and consumption. I am very easily upset by people who waste food. Like most principles, this oversensitivity probably stems from childhood, growing up in an Italian family where eating every bite was expected - and normal.  Add to that the 3rd grade memory of sitting in the school cafeteria over a tray of hotdogs and not being allowed to play at recess until I cleaned my plate. Regardless of the emotional determinant, concern over food waste is something that provokes my obsessive compulsive disorder.

According to a 2012 report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), 40 percent of food in the United States goes uneaten. This adds up to $165 billion in losses going straight to the landfills. Not to mention the disturbing fact that 1 in 6 Americans does not have access to enough food. 

Fortunately, there are things we all can do as consumers to help these staggering statistics.

  • Shop with a purpose. This means plan ahead. By making a list of items you need to make a planned meal, the risk of buying and not using something that you do not have a plan for is greatly reduced.
  • Know when food really goes bad. Many people read an item’s sell-by date as an indicator of when the food will spoil, but that is an inaccurate assumption according to the NRDC. Manufacturers use sell-by dates to help retailers manage their inventory and encourage stores to sell a product within a certain time frame so that the food still has a shelf life once it is purchased. The labels “best before” and “use by” do NOT indicate a deadline after which foods go bad, but how long the food will be at peak quality.
  • Buy produce that is not the most attractive. Go ahead and eat the apple that has the pockmark. That just means it is real.
  • Buy and cook only the amount of food you need unless you have a plan for using the leftovers later. Shopping often helps ensure that you do not over-purchase, especially when it comes to fresh produce. 
  • Eat your leftovers. There is nothing wrong or passé about leftovers. Your food will probably taste better the next day anyways.
  • Be mindful at the buffet. By now I am sure you have a pretty good idea of the capacity of your stomach. I do not understand why the presence of a buffet makes some think that they are capable of eating much more than they are physically capable.  At buffets you can usually make multiple trips. Remember that. Do not load up one enormous plate of food and then realize a third of the way through that you had a big lunch.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Food Frequency and Fasting

Q: What are your thoughts on meal frequency and intermittent fasting?

A: Our bodies like consistency.  Metabolism, immunity, the digestive and excretory systems all work together and are able to do so most efficiently when we are consistent in our daily habits. Ever notice that when you travel things seem to get "off"? That is because our bodies like habitual patterns be it eating, sleeping- there is even a preferred time of day your body likes to workout. There is too much conflicting research to make a blanketed statement that this is how many meals you should be having. That being said, how many meals you eat during the day, whether it is 2, 4 or 6 depend upon each individual and how your body responds the best. Pay attention to your energy levels, satiety, appetite, athletic performances and sleeping patterns. By being mindful of how you feel, you will be able to find the frequency that works best for you.

Intermittent fasting has been around for years and is hyped as a method to lose weight and increase longevity. Most studies conducted on intermittent fasting have been done using animals rather than a human model. There is very limited evidence available to prove that it is a beneficial means for sustainable weight loss. If you think about it, we fast naturally every night when we go to bed, hence the need for break-fast in the morning. Success from this diet plan usually stems from extreme calorie restriction and not the act of fasting. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t be making any friends or running very far having not eaten for 8+ waking hours. This pattern of eating can be dangerous and is highly discouraged if you are hypoglycemic or diabetic.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Don't Stress over Supplements

Intense training and racing puts a distance runner at greater risk for oxidative stress than a sedentary person. Does this mean that a runner should take antioxidant supplements to fight cellular damage? Find out in the latest installment of 'Ask the Dietitian' at