Jun 26, 2010

What You Drink Impacts Your Diet, Part Six: Soda

Avoid weight gain, obesity, and certain health issues: eliminate or cut down on soda – regular and diet.

At our last stop on this beverage expedition we took a rather long and disturbing detour, an inside look into the dairy industry –– the good, the bad, and the ugly. However, it was brought to my attention that I didn’t quite address whether or not drinking milk is good or bad. The answer is, unless you are a baby or young child, in my opinion, milk is over-rated and should not be part of your daily liquid consumption in large quantities, especially if you consider the saturated fat and lactose (a type of sugar) that is found in milk. Yet, using milk in your cereal, oatmeal, coffee, etc. in small amounts is fine, unless of course you are lactose-intolerant. Keep in mind there are also alternatives to dairy milk like soy, rice and almond milk.

Today’s beverage stop is emotionally lighter, yet it could be heavier to your body. We will tackle one of the most popular liquid choices in America, soda –– a drink that does its fair share of damage to health and fitness. Drinking soda is one of America's biggest diet debacles and one that warrants a “diet villain” label –– both diet and regular. This is due to the fact that this is where your beverages get "real sticky" –– as in way too much sugar and artificial sweeteners, which are the main ingredients found in soda.

Sugar and artificial sweeteners are relevant to number five, SODA, of the nine liquid categories I've laid out to analyze and move you toward the "fit path" when it comes to your beverage choices. Although our journey has been quite pleasant (other than the "cow stop"), at this point you may need a little shove because sugar and artificial sweeteners are also pertinent to numbers six through eight –– other soft drinks, juices, and meal replacement drinks.

Sugar and sugar derivatives:
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in a report by MedicineNet.com, Americans consume "one hundred and fifty-six pounds of sugar each year on a per capita basis." Quite amazing! The reason is not just from adding "table sugar" to your food and drinks –– a common diet mistake –– but the fact that highly refined sugar is found in most packaged, processed, and man-made food items. And, it comes in many forms like; sucrose (table sugar), dextrose (corn sugar), high-fructose corn syrup, etc. Unfortunately, today sugar and sugar derivatives are not just found in cookies, candy and soda; it is everywhere from your cereal, bread, crackers, dairy products, mayonnaise, peanut butter, ketchup, pasta sauce, to a plethora of frozen, canned foods, and so called "fat-free" products. The list is endless.

Sugar has rightly drawn harsh criticism, and some nutrition experts are heralding "dire consequences" from suppressing the immune system to hyperactivity and hundreds of ways that it can ruin your health. While some of the "perils of sugar" are true, others need more thorough evaluation. However, there is no disputing the fact that refined sugar is a source of empty calories (void of nutritional value), and consuming excessive amounts has its cost; it can worsen cholesterol levels, can easily lead to weight gain, and is a factor in our obesity epidemic, which has plenty of its own health penalties.

Artificial sweeteners:
To this day there is a great deal of controversy surrounding artificial sweeteners (Sweet'N Low, NutraSweet, Splenda, and others), and some nutritionists and fitness experts like Dr. Mercola –– a very influential "health guru" and best-selling author –– deem them as "poison" when consumed in excess.

Interestingly, MedicineNet.com states, "For every compelling positive argument in favor of using these sweeteners, there is an equally compelling negative argument opposing their use." Widely circulated reports have suggested that some sweeteners, such as aspartame and saccharin, carry serious health implications, including an increased risk of cancer. Yet, in 2008 the Mayo Clinic reported that the "Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the American Dietetic Association, the National Cancer Institute, and others agree that no evidence supports these claims." However, they do warn that "that consuming foods with low-calorie sweeteners may result in an overall increase in calorie intake and weight gain."

Keep in mind, some of these "fake" sugars have not been on the market long enough to confirm whether or not they are truly safe and at what levels. Despite any FDA approval, I am very skeptical and my advice is to error on the side of caution –– use artificial sweeteners rarely if at all.

What else is found in soda and what are the possible damages?
If you've read one soda label, you've pretty much read them all. Coca-Cola (Classic) ingredients include carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup and/or sucrose, caramel color, phosphoric acid, natural flavors, and caffeine. On the other hand, Diet Coke contains carbonated water, caramel color, aspartame, phosphoric acid, potassium benzoate (to protect taste), natural flavors, citric acid, and caffeine. Other ingredients found in soda are sodium citrate, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, ascorbic acid, and dyes like Red 40.

In researching the dangers of soda, you will find an array of reasons not to drink it, which include weight gain and obesity, diabetes, weakened bones and risk for osteoporosis, dental issues, kidney damage, increased blood pressure, contributor to heartburn, impaired digestion, dehydration, excessive caffeine intake, toxins from aspartame, and so on.

In 2001, PreventDisease.com took aim at four key "soda targets," in order to separate the fact from fiction, specifically in relation to our kids, who are guzzling soda at unprecedented rates.
  1. Obesity: The report shows that "a team of Harvard researchers presented the first evidence linking soft drink consumption to childhood obesity." They found that "schoolchildren who drank soft drinks consumed almost 200 more calories per day than their counterparts who didn't down soft drinks."
  2. Tooth decay: The report states, "numerous studies –– using children and adults –– have shown a direct link between tooth decay and soft drinks." They also noted "sugar isn't the only ingredient in soft drinks that causes tooth problems, "the acids in soda pop are also notorious for etching tooth enamel in ways that can lead to cavities."
  3. Caffeine dependence: Apparently, "the stimulant properties and dependence potential of caffeine in soda are well documented, as are their effects on children."
  4. Weakened bones and osteoporosis: PreventDisease.com notes that "rat studies point to clear and consistent bone loss with the use of cola beverages" and also shared a 1994 Harvard study, where "[14-year-old] girls who drank cola were about five times more likely to suffer bone fractures than girls who didn't consume soda pop." Web MD confirms the connection between soda and osteoporosis, citing research done by Tufts University. Researchers studied several thousand men and women, and found that women, who regularly drank three or more a day cola-based sodas, had almost 4% lower bone mineral density in the hip. According to the lead study author Katherine Tucker, PhD, "phosphoric acid, a major component in most sodas, may be to blame [for the lower bone mineral density)]." WebMD notes that, "phosphorus itself is an important bone mineral, but if you're getting a disproportionate amount of phosphorus compared to the amount of calcium you're getting, that could lead to bone loss." They also add, "another possible culprit is caffeine, which experts have long known can interfere with calcium absorption."

Is diet soda better than regular?
While you may save yourself around 200 calories a "pop," there are a multitude of drawbacks to consider when choosing diet soda over regular –– as presented in this article and by conducting your own investigation.

Furthermore, David S. Ludwig, MD, PhD, Harvard Professor, in his article –– Artificially Sweetened Beverages Cause for Concern, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in December 2009, challenges the notion that artificial sweeteners are risk free and he makes three important points:
  1. Our body gets confused by artificial sweeteners
  2. We’re “Infantilizing” our taste sense
  3. Long term effects unclear
And, if you think that just because you drink "diet soda," you are immune from weight gain, think again. Surprisingly (not to those of us in the fitness industry), a 2005 study reported by WebMD declares, "people who drink diet soft drinks don't lose weight. In fact, they gain weight." Seemingly, diet soda may not be the direct cause of weight gain and obesity, but it does give a false sense of "dieting" and a license to splurge in other areas.

Bottom line on soda:
What you drink does impact your diet –– positively and negatively, and the evidence is clear, drinking soda –– diet or regular –– is not good for your health or fitness level, especially if you are consuming more than one a day –– and warning for those "six-pack a day" people. But will having a soda from time to time "kill" you? I don't think so. How do I know this? Because one of my vices is Diet Coke and I'm still alive to write about it. That being said, as a 30-year veteran in the fitness industry and a retired fitness competitor, drinking soda –– diet or regular –– is not what I recommend on your "fit path," particularly if your goals involve weight loss and optimal health.

If you abstain from soda altogether –– a wise choice –– there are other sugary drinks you may be consuming that deserve careful consideration. These include other soft drinks like Kool-aid and Crystal Light, sports drinks like Gatorade, and juice boxes, which will be our next STOP.

Article first published as What You Drink Impacts Your Diet, Part Six: Soda on Blogcritics. Author: Christine Lakatos — Published: Jun 26, 2010 at 6:46 am –– Part of Fitness Flash on Blogcritics Magazine Brought to you by Fitness Expert and author of MY DIVA DIET: A Woman's Last Diet Book and the BLOG, MY DIVA DIET: Fitness Flash –– getting you OFF the "fat path" and onto the "FIT PATH".

Jun 14, 2010

BlogTalkRadio and Wess Murray of Essentially Fit

This past weekend, –– Sunday, June 13, 2010 –– I had the privilege of being a guest on Wess Murray’s BlogTalkRadio Show, Essentially Fit.

Listen to internet radio with Essentially Fit on Blog Talk Radio

Wess Murray is a personal trainer and wellness coach, whose guests include fitness professionals, wellness coaches, nutritionists and other health professionals to discuss all aspects of health and wellness. On his BlogTalkRadio show, Wess will also take your questions, and you might have the opportunity for live coaching right on the show!

Wess –– "star host" on BlogTalkadio –– has interviewed many high-profile fitness gurus like JJ Virgin, Shawn Phillips, Tom Bilella, Belinda Benn, Sidney Wilson, and many more. He also highlights regular folks and their dramatic “wellness stories.”

Last January, Wess interviewed my “friends in fitness,” The Nutrition Twins! The Lakatos' approachable, common sense style has also earned them editorial success and tons of media attention. The Twins co-authored a revolutionary nutrition book, Fire Up Your Metabolism: 9 Proven Principles for Burning Fat and Losing Weight Forever. Their second book, The Secret to Skinny: How Salt Makes You Fat and the 4-Week Plan to Drop A Size & Get Healthier with Simple Low Sodium Swaps was released in September of 2009.

I have written about the Lakatos Twins many times and while we are not related, I have personally reviewed both of their books for Blogcritics Magazine [see links above] and Lyssie and Tammy were kind enough to be part of MY DIVA DIET, Expert Reviews.

Wess, with a wellness success story of his own...
"I am not your stereotypical trainer. I was not a jock growing up, and I am not a trainer /actor /model. I moved into personal training from the Internet industry (graphic design). As a designer, I spent most of my days behind a computer - sometimes up to 18 hours a day. I eventually ballooned up to over 300lbs. I was overweight and unhappy with my life." Wess goes on, "Then, one day I made the DECISION to make a change in my life. I did the research, and went through a lot of trial and error. I tried just about every attempt that you could think of to lose weight. However, with experience and a lot of research, I discovered the right way to lose that unwanted fat and build precious muscle. Since then I've developed a passion for fitness and I now help other people make changes in their lives."

...is a certified personal trainer located in New York City. He has worked in the fitness industry for over four years. His specialty is in Natural and Functional Strength training. And Wess, who "knows what it's like to fight for better health," is on a mission to help others get started on the TRUE fitness path!

I must say, Wess is looking fine as ever and he looks great in pink! Check out Wess on BlogTalkRadio, with some terrific shows as well as on his website, EssentiallyFit.com, Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks, Wess, and keep up your great body and show! Big West Coast hug! Christine

Jun 10, 2010

What You Drink Impacts Your Diet, Part Five: Milk and the Dairy Industry

Our beverage expedition takes a rather disturbing detour, the abuses and future of our dairy cows and other livestock.

Our last few stops on this beverage expedition have been quite pleasant: from water, the "fountain of wellness," to the goats in Africa, exploring that coffee, in general is good, to the legend of the Emperor in China, who gave us tea and its countless health benefits. Now we take a look at a popular liquid choice, used to drink, in recipes, cereal and array of other ways –– milk. Dairy products also include yogurt, cheese, ice cream, butter, and so on. But does "milk do a body good"? More importantly, what about the dairy cows? Warning: this "stop and smell the pasture" detour is rather lengthy and disturbing.

Considering I live on the Central Coast of California where cows graze and relax on ranches side by side with horses, only a quarter a mile away –– and all over our counties –– cows have become one of my favorite animals (my first is the Silverback gorilla) and that is one of the reasons I rarely eat beef. The other basis is that beef is high in saturated fat and there are much leaner types of meat to choose from.

Ironically, as an animal lover and a fitness expert, I'm torn when it comes to consuming animal sources of protein altogether. Protein –– an important component of every cell in the body, is a "macronutrient" and along with carbohydrates and fats, is needed in relatively large amounts. Consuming protein daily is essential to a balanced diet and it can aid in weight loss. Although you can get enough protein in your diet via plant sources like legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, as well as small traces found in fruits and vegetables, you may end up "over-carbing" and missing out on the plusses that animal sources of protein bring to the table, unless of course you are a well-educated and disciplined vegan.

Despite the fact that poultry, beef, eggs, milk, and seafood were never meant to be consumed in excess, our society has turned something good that was intended for life and nutrition into something horrific –– transforming our food industry into a "gluttony and greed machine," at the expense of our innocent animals. It is a travesty that is obvious to those "brave" enough to confront the reality of the on-gong barbaric and disgusting treatment of our animals in the name of food supply.

Unfortunately, dairy cows are not immune from the cruelty our food industry imposes on our animals. According to VegforLife.org (and tons of other advocacy groups, each carrying their own agenda), dairy cows are…
  • Forced to produce ten times more milk than they would in nature, most dairy cows endure an exhausting existence of continuous breeding and milk production. As a result, dairy cows frequently suffer from painful udder infections, lameness and other ailments.
  • In the name of increased milk production and profit, many dairy cows are injected with Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH), a genetically engineered hormone known to cause birth defects in calves. The drug, which was approved by the FDA, was banned in Europe and Canada.
  • Although they can live for more than 20 years in a healthy environment, dairy cows are sent to slaughter when their milk production declines at four or five years of age.
  • And so on...
As an author of a diet book, I do recommend consuming protein from lean meats, egg whites, and certain seafood. And dairy products have their place in a healthy and fit diet especially yogurt (sugar-free of course). However, I do advise choosing “free-range” and "organic" –– poultry, eggs, beef, and dairy products, because, for the most part, these animals have better odds of being treated humanely and free-range livestock are allowed to roam freely and feed at will.

Sadly, just like most industries, come the liars. Even though the USDA has regulations for those that label themselves “all-natural,” “free-range,” “free-roaming,” or “organic," there is no guarantee that animals were treated any better than animals raised in conventional factory farms. Moreover, most “free-range” animals are still mutilated and forced to endure long trips to slaughterhouses without any food or water. And according to DawnWatch.com, "Organic dairy cows are not pumped with hormones to increase milk production. However the picture of them leading natural lives is a fallacy. And dairy cows from organic farms have the same fate as other diary cows –– they eventually become organic hamburgers."

On the positive front, and even if you don't "buy into" the claim that organic is better for your health, eating fewer animal products is better for the environment as are organic farms. Furthermore, thanks to animal advocacy groups and watchdogs, it is refreshing to know that there are strides toward making organic dairy a first step to cruelty-free dairy products. Under the United States National Organic Program (NOP), "standards for organic dairy production are designed to promote good health and limit stress for farmed animals." Unlike conventional farms, organic dairy farms have stricter requirements on their livestock (cows and goats), which include feed, health care practices, and living conditions.

Back in October of 2008, the USDA proposed changes to the standards that govern organic dairy farms –– those seeking the "organic certification" were required to give their cows "access to pasture." According to Kathie Arnold, (NY State organic dairy farmer and President of the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (NODPA), a NOC member), “[the] draft rule provides specific language needed for enforcement of one of the central tenets of organically produced livestock—that organic livestock spend a considerable part of their lives in their natural pasture habitat and receive a significant portion of their food from fresh, green, growing pasture.”

Over the years, some large dairy companies have chosen to either interpret loosely or "willfully violate tenets of federal organic regulations" altogether. Seemingly, the Obama administration (Tom Vilsack, Secretary of the USDA) has "taken the bull by the horn," including the organic program. Back in December of 2009, one of the largest organic cattle producers in the U.S., Promiseland Livestock (a multimillion dollar operation out of Nebraska), was "decertified" by the USDA –– suspended from organic commerce for four years for their improprieties.

This past February, the USDA released stronger organic USDA rules –– "regulations that establish distinct benchmarks requiring the grazing and pasturing of dairy cows and other livestock," which was delayed by the Bush administration and is expected to go into effect around June 16, 2010. According to Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at the Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute (one of the industry's most aggressive watchdogs), “The public controversies concerning Aurora Dairy (a $100+ million company based in Colorado, who produces a private-label, store brand milk for Wal-Mart, Costco and large grocery chains), and alleged improprieties by the largest milk processor in the country, Dean Foods (Horizon Organic), put increasing pressure on the USDA to rein-in the scofflaws in this industry.”

Many of us, including the smaller organic dairy farmers, are eager to see that these stricter regulations will put an end to the abuses (some criminal in my opinion) that have flooded the organic market by a handful of mega-dairies –– specifically the treatment of livestock –– and restore fairness and integrity to the organic dairy sector. Cornucopia, who has criticized the Bush administration and his arm of the USDA, has their hope that the Obama administration will be "swift" to enforce and penalize any abuses.

While organic livestock are getting well-deserved attention, regrettably, conventional livestock still remain at the "mercy" of our dreadful food industry and it's quite nauseating –– a topic worthy of outrage and action by all of us. And I haven't even covered the atrocities committed at the slaughterhouses. That said, I am left wondering if our organic dairy cows (and other livestock) have a brighter future? Only, time will tell.

So at the end of the pasture, "does dairy do a body good?" Dairy products like yogurt, cottage cheese, and milk (low-fat choices of course) offer some health benefits, however, drinking tons of milk, in my opinion, is overrated –– even when you are looking for calcium, which can be found in non-dairy sources. There are alternatives to dairy, like soy products, but if you are not ready to give up your dairy just yet, there is one thing you can do: choose a “dairy brand” with high standards. The Cornucopia Institute has developed a way to enable consumers to identify the best dairy brands. They offer a report, “Maintaining Integrity of Organic,” and rate 68 different organic dairy brands against a set of criteria central to true organic standards; "Organic Dairy Report/Ratings Arranged by Cow Star Ratings."

Side Note: It looks like the one I've been using –– Organic Valley Family Farms, (not a milk drinker but I use it in my coffee and oatmeal) got "4 Cows" from The Cornucopia Institute. www.OrganicValley.coop

Our next stop in our beverage journey will be much lighter; we will tackle one of the most popular liquid choices in America –– the "diet villain" soda, a drink that does its fair share of damage to the health and wellness of our bodies and that of our children.

What You Drink Impacts Your Diet, Part Five: Milk and the Dairy Industry
Article first published on Blogcritcs Magazine: Opinion in Sci/Tech — by Christine Lakatos — on Jun 09, 2010
MY DIVA DIET: Fitness Flash

Jun 2, 2010

What You Drink Impacts Your Diet, Part Four: Tea

From a 5000-year-old Chinese legend, to a popular worldwide beverage that offers countless health and wellness benefits.

As we discovered at our last stop in this beverage journey, coffee has its origin in Africa and began with the "curiosity" of some goats and an Ethiopian goat herder. Tea's origin: China, over 5,000 years ago, with the emperor, Shen Nung. According to legend, Shen Nung had required that "all drinking water be boiled as a hygienic precaution." Then one summer day while visiting a distant region of his realm, he and the court stopped to rest and the servants began to boil water for the court to drink. Apparently, dried leaves from a nearby bush fell into the boiling water, and a brown liquid was infused into the water. The Emperor drank the new liquid and found it refreshing.

After water, tea is the most commonly consumed beverage in the world, offering many health benefits, medicinal purposes as well as aiding in weight loss. For the most part, tea can be placed into ten types; White, Green, Oolong, Black, Herbal Teas, Rooibos Tea, Mate Tea, Blooming Teas, and Tea Blends. They each offer their own characteristics including a different taste, differing health benefits, and varying levels of caffeine. Most tea –– Black, Green, White or Oolong –– comes from a plant called Camellia sinensis, while herbal teas are not really teas, but herbal infusions, also known as tisane, which are made with herbs consisting of dried leaves, flowers, bark, fruit, roots and/or seeds.

Green tea seems to be the craze lately, with claims that it is a "miracle" weight-loss ingredient. According to an array of experts and studies, as noted by Web MD, "green tea and its extract have been shown to fight obesity and lower LDL "bad" cholesterol." Due to epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) –– a type of catechin (a powerful, water-soluble polyphenol and antioxidant that is easily oxidized) –– that is abundant in green tea; green tea has been found to "stimulate the metabolism and accelerate weight loss." However, studies are limited and there are other variables to consider. Keep in mind; there is no "quick fix" –– potion, pill, or tea –– to permanent weight loss (more importantly, fat loss); it is the totality of your diet coupled with exercise that matters most!

Six Tea Tips:
  1. Do drink a tea daily –– it will help boost your water intake and it offers countless health and wellness benefits. And for those interesting in losing weight, certain teas will assist you in that effort.
  2. Tea is a great beverage replacement for those of you who tend to consume a lot of soda and other sugary-type drinks.
  3. Don't drink grocery store bottled teas that aren't 100% tea. These teas usually contain sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and other sugar derivatives, all of which add empty calories to your diet that can lead to weight gain.
  4. Some coffee bistros offer a variety of tea choices –– just make sure they are plain teas –– no sugar, cream, artificial sweeteners, etc.
  5. If you need to add "sweet" to your tea, try honey or agave nectar.
  6. If you need to add "creamy" to you tea, you're better off with low-fat dairy milk or soymilk.
As we continue to navigate through this "beverage expedition" –– designed to shed light on the fact that your liquid choices can dramatically impact your weight, health, wellness, energy, mood, and more –– I will persist to ensure that you get off the "fat and unhealthy" trail and onto the "fit path."

Our next stop will be a trip to the dairy farms, visiting one of my favorite animals –– cows, and uncovering details –– pros and cons –– surrounding milk.

Originally published in Blogcritics –– Sci/Tech Part of Fitness Flash
What You Drink Impacts Your Diet, Part Four: Tea
Author: Christine Lakatos — Published: Jun 02, 2010 at 3:34 pm
MY DIVA DIET: Fitness Flash