Sunday, February 21, 2010

"Natural" Doesn't Always Mean "Healthy"

Google "agave syrup" and you will get pages of returns of articles with titles like "All About Agave" and "Agave Nectar" touting the supposed nutritional benefits of this natural sweetener made mostly in Mexico from the agave plant. (Yes, the same agave plant used to produce pulque and tequilla. That's neither good nor bad, just a factoid.) The syrup produced from the agave has been promoted for its low glycemic index and is a common ingredient in bottled teas, energy drinks, nutrition bars and desserts sold in health food stores.

Move beyond the health food stores and food manufacturers looking for a way around the gag reflex produced by artificial sweeteners like Splenda and a very different story is told. Agave syrup is no healthier then refined sugar, and in some respects it may be even worse for us. Refined sugar (sucrose) contains 16 calories per teaspoon. Agave syrup contains 20. Agave syrup may be up to 90% fructose vs 55% for "high fructose" corn syrup. "People say it's a healthful alternative, but it's not really. A sugar is a sugar is a sugar," says Dr. Kantha Shelke, a food chemist specializing in natural foods with the Chicago-based food science think tank Corvus Blue.
Agave syrup is often marketed as being "diabetic friendly". But according to the University of California Berkeley Wellness Newsletter there are no studies to suggest that the sweetener is any safer for diabetics than table sugar. In fact other studies have concluded that large amounts of fructose increase the risk of diabetes and also pose health concerns for the liver and the heart.

We need to popularize a new phrase, "epulor caveo", meaning "diner beware". In nutrition, as in so many other things, we tend to believe what we want to be true. While this may be fine when choosing between, say, an iPhone and a Droid, accepting the latest fad as fact can have damaging health consequences when done in making our food and nutrition choices. Clearly neither the government, food manufacturers nor the "health" industry is going to look too far beyond the money to be made off the latest fad. We all better start figuring out how to do so for ourselves. As Mark Twain famously said, "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. Its what you know for sure that just ain't so."

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Too Much of a Good Thing

A 2007 study by Joel Mason, MD, amply illustrates that creating your own "supplement cocktail" based upon supermarket supplements and an incomplete understanding of nutrition science can have unexpected or even dangerous consequences.

Folic Acid (also known by Folate and Vitamin B9) is an important nutrient that assists the body to produce healthy new cells, prevent some forms of anemia, reduce birth defects by helping prevent or minimize DNA changes and possibly reduces the incidence of some forms of cancer. By any measure it is an important component of a healthy, complete diet, especially for children and pregnant women. Folic acid is found in leafy green vegetables, fruits, dried beans, peas and nuts and some cereals and grains. Its also gotten a lot of (semi-informed) press so health conscious people are aware of it and frequently take steps to supplement their diet with it.

The problem with this is that, according to the Mason study cited above, consuming large amounts of folic acid may actually increase your risk of developing certain cancers, colorectal and prostate especially. The US Food and Drug Administration has established a tolerable upper limit of 1,000 mcg per day for folic acid. As supplement makers rushed to include folic acid in their products when it became "popular" it became very easy to exceed the recommended limit without knowing it. For example, your multivitamin may contain 400 mcg. If you add a B-complex supplement you could get another 400 mcg from that. If you eat a healthy diet you will probably be getting 200 - 800 mcg of folic acid anyway. Add a folic acid supplement and you could be well over the recommended limit.

The point of this is not to discourage you from using supplementation or folic acid. Just be aware that nutrition is a complex science, that nutrients have to be present is specific amounts and combinations to be optimally effective, that too much of something really can hurt you (ever notice how many bottles of vitamin pills carry warning labels?), and that many (not all) supplement makers follow the same trends and fads that you do. If you are going to use supplements, and most reputable health care professionals recommend that you do, make sure that your supplier actually understands the nutrition behind the products and ensure that your supplementation program is synergystic and comprehensive. "Mix and Match" might well do you more harm than good.

Friday, February 19, 2010

What's in a Name?

I never forget a face. Names however, are another matter. They are a challenge for me. One I need to work on because it matters. Network marketing, by definition, is a people business. It depends upon our ability for form lasting relationships with people, many of whom start out as strangers to us. And one of the most powerful tools for building a large circle of friends is simply remembering and greeting people with their name.

Research shows that even as children our brains are wired to respond favorably to the sound of our own names. Different cultures respect a wide range of customs related to greetings, but nearly all of them value the use of our names in the process. Well known sales and marketing trainers such as Tom Hopkins and Glen Ebersole often make a point of mentioning how important the simple act of remembering a name can be in facilitating relationship building.

So what are people like me to do? Here's some advice from online jobs board Careerbuilders. I know I'm going to be taking it.

And what was your name again?

Monday, February 15, 2010

February is American Heart Month

This is the month set aside to call our attention to heart health, and a good time to take stock of where we are and where we are going. Are you in charge of your heart health? Or are you just along for the ride? Heart attacks are still the #1 killer of Americans, men AND women, and there is a lot we can do to avoid becoming one of those gruesome statistics.

Here is what the American Heart Association suggests that you focus on to do the right thing by your heart:
  • Watch your cholesterol. Healthy levels are generally considered to be under 200 for Total Cholesterol; greater than 60 for HDL (Good) Cholesterol; and under 100 for LDL (Bad) Cholesterol. After you have watched your cholesterol, DO something about it either by diet or medication.
  • Get regular exercise. It need not be intense but it does need to be regular. Shoot for 30 minutes a day. Walking in from the parking lot or taking the stairs instead of the elevator count. If you have no time to exercise, how will you find the time to recover from a heart attack?
  • Be aware of your blood pressure and take steps to move it into the normal range. That would be a resting blood pressure of 120/80 or less for most people. Diet, exercise and medication can all help with this.
  • Control your weight, or it will control you. The swelling (pun intended) levels of obesity among Americans is a major contributor not only to heart disease but to stroke, cancer, diabetes, asthma and osteoarthritis as well as a host to other chronic health conditions. Packing it on around your waist is especially detrimental. If you are overweight, take action. The sooner you begin the less difficult it will be to shed pounds (anyone who tells you it will be easy is a liar).
  • For the love of God, STOP SMOKING! If you can't stop on your own get help. Its an addiction not a habit. Getting help is a sign of strength, not weakness. If you don't stop you will end up with a heart attack or coughing your cancerous lungs up. Not a pretty picture. Enough said.
  • Watch your blood sugar levels. Wild fluctuations are not only a precursor to a life taking insulin, but they are also bad for your heart. You want your fasting blood glucose level to be under 100mg/dL.
In nearly every case, the critical risk factors for heart attack (and most other chronic diseases) could have been controlled. There are more options today then ever for doing so. So use American Heart Month (not "Heart Month" and not "National Heart Month") to take stock of your own situation, identify an area or two where you could improve, and take action. Before its too late.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Are you an AlphaWELL or an OhWELL?

The Council for Responsible Nutrition has undertaken a broad-based consumer wellness campaign designed to increase awareness of the impact of diet and lifestyle on our health, provide a quick, easy to take online assessment of our present wellness status, and offer practical advice (beyond the usual "improve your diet and exercise more" platitudes) to help people step on up the wellness scale. The Life ... supplemented campaign is a good place to begin if you've been meaning to take control of your health and wellness through better lifestyle choices but just need a little coaching to get started. The wellness assessment will take you about 10 minutes to complete and the results may surprise you.

Go ahead and do it, you know you should.