January, 2015

Vitamin D: Literally Everything You Need to Know…

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You may be surprised to learn that vitamin D is completely different from most other vitamins. It is actually a hormone, a steroid hormone that is produced out of cholesterol when your skin is exposed to the sun. For this reason, vitamin D is often referred to as the “sunshine” vitamin.

However, sun exposure is often inadequate these days, making it necessary for people to get more of it from the diet (or supplements). This is important, because vitamin D is absolutely essential for optimal health. Unfortunately, only a handful of foods contain significant amounts of this vitamin, and deficiency is extremely common. In fact, according to data from 2005-2006, a whopping 41.6% of the US population is deficient in this critical vitamin/hormone.This article explains everything you need to know about vitamin D.

What is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is one of the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K), meaning that it dissolves in fat/oil and can be stored in the body for a long time. There are actually two main forms found in the diet:

Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol): Found in some animal foods, like fatty fish and egg yolks.

Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol): Found in some plants.

Of the two, D3 (cholecalciferol) is the one we’re interested in, because it is almost twice as effective at increasing blood levels of vitamin D as the D2 form.

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High Fructose Corn Syrup. Just Like Sugar, or Worse?

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For decades, high fructose corn syrup has been used as a sweetener in processed foods. Supposedly high in fructose, it has been heavily criticized for its negative health effects. Many people claim that it is even more harmful than other sugar-based sweeteners. But how does high fructose corn syrup really compare to regular sugar? Is it any worse? Let’s have a look…

What is High Fructose Corn Syrup?

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a sweetener derived from corn syrup, which is processed from corn. It is used to sweeten processed foods and soft drinks, primarily in the USA. Similarly to regular table sugar (sucrose), it is composed of both fructose and glucose. It became a popular sweetener in the late 1970’s when the price of regular sugar was high, while corn prices were low due to government subsidies.However, the use of high fructose corn syrup has started declining slightly, in line with the rising popularity of artificial sweeteners.

The graph below shows trends for sweetener consumption in the US, in the years 1966-2009:

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The blue line shows the consumption of regular sugar, while the red line shows the consumption of high fructose corn syrup, which skyrocketed between 1975 and 1985.

Bottom Line: High fructose corn syrup is a sugar-based sweetener, used in processed foods and drinks in the US. Like regular sugar, it consists of the simple sugars glucose and fructose.

How is High Fructose Corn Syrup Produced?

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High fructose corn syrup is made from corn (maize), which is usually genetically modified. The corn is first milled to produce corn starch. Then the corn starch is processed even further to produce corn syrup.

Corn syrup consists mostly of glucose. To make it sweeter and more similar in taste to regular sugar (sucrose), some of that glucose is converted to fructose, using enzymes. Several different types of high fructose corn syrup are available, with varying proportions of fructose. For example, the most concentrated form contains 90% fructose, and is called HFCS 90. The most commonly used type is HFCS 55 (55% fructose, 42% glucose). HFCS 55 is very similar to sucrose (regular table sugar), which is 50% fructose and 50% glucose.

Bottom Line: High fructose corn syrup is produced from corn (maize), which is further refined to produce syrup. The most common type used is very similar to sugar.

High Fructose Corn Syrup vs. Regular Sugar

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There are only tiny differences between the most common type of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS 55) and regular sugar. First of all, high fructose corn syrup is liquid, containing 24% water, whereas table sugar is dry and granulated. In terms of chemical structure, the fructose and glucose in high fructose corn syrup are not bound together like in granulated sugar (sucrose). Instead, they “float” separately alongside each other. These differences do not affect nutritional value or health properties in any way. In our digestive system, sugar is broken down into fructose and glucose, so corn syrup and sugar end up looking exactly the same. Gram for gram, HFCS 55 has slightly higher levels of fructose than regular sugar. The difference is very small and not particularly relevant from a health perspective. Of course, if we were comparing regular sugar with HFCS 90 (90% fructose), then regular sugar would be far more desirable, as excessive consumption of fructose can be very harmful. However, HFCS 90 is rarely used, and then only in tiny amounts due to its extreme sweetness.

Bottom Line: High fructose corn syrup and sugar are almost identical. The main difference is that in sugar, the fructose and glucose molecules are bound together.

Studies Comparing Sugar and High Fructose Corn Syrup:

The main reason why sugar-based sweeteners are unhealthy, is because of the large amount of fructose they supply. The liver is the only organ that can metabolize fructose in significant amounts. When the liver gets overloaded, it turns the fructose in the fat. Some of that fat can lodge in the liver, contributing to fatty liver. High fructose consumption is also linked to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, obesity and type 2 diabetes, to name a few. Going into all the harmful effects of excess fructose is beyond the scope of this article, but you can find articles readily online.

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High fructose corn syrup and regular sugar have a very similar blend of fructose and glucose (with the ratio about 50:50), so we would expect the health effects to be largely the same. Sure enough, this has been confirmed numerous times. Research has shown there is no difference when comparing equal doses of high fructose corn syrup and regular sugar. There is also no difference in the satiety or insulin response when given similar doses, and no difference in leptin levels or effects on body weight. So according to the best available evidence, sugar and high fructose corn syrup are exactly the same.

Bottom Line: Many studies have shown that sugar and high fructose corn syrup are identical in their effects on health and metabolism. Both are seriously harmful when consumed in excess.

Added Sugar is Bad, Fruit is Not:

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It’s important to keep in mind that none of this “fructose is bad” talk applies to whole fruit. Fruit are whole foods, with plenty of fiber, nutrients and antioxidants. It is very difficult to overeat fructose if you’re only getting it from whole fruit. This only applies to added sugars, when consumed in large amounts, in the context of a high calorie, Western diet.

Take Home Message

Commonly used high fructose corn syrup (HFCS 55) is virtually identical to regular table sugar. There is currently no evidence to suggest that one is worse than the other. In other words, they are both equally bad.

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9 Easy Tips For Waking Up Earlier And More Refreshed

Many of us dread our morning alarm. Even though we know we could accomplish so much more if we could only drag ourselves out of bed, prying loose those covers is a daunting task — especially for those of us whose natural chronotype, or body clock, means we’re not morning people.

Fortunately, there are some science-backed tips that can help even the most dedicated night owl wake up earlier, feeling more alert and ready to accomplish what they need for the day. The key is transforming our evening and morning routines to prime our body to sleep well at night and wake refreshed the next day.

Here’s how to make that happen.

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Does an Apple a Day really Keeps the Doctor away?

Apples are among the most popular types of fruit in the world. They are the fruit of the apple tree (Malus domestica), originally from Central Asia, and are grown all over the world. Apples are high in fiber, vitamin C and various antioxidants. They are also very fulfilling, considering their low calorie content. Studies show that eating apples can have multiple benefits for health. They taste delicious on their own and are usually eaten raw, but they are also used in various recipes, juices and drinks.

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Nutrition Facts:

The table below contains detailed information on all the different nutrients in apples.

Serving 100 grams = 1 Cup, chopped (125g) 1 Cup, slices (109g) 1 Extra small (2-1/2″ dia – 101g) 1 Small (2-3/4″ dia – 149g) 1 Medium (3″ dia – 182g) 1 Large (3-1/4″ dia – 223g) 1 NLEA serving (242g) General Vitamins & minerals

General information:

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Carbohydrates in Apples:

Apples are mainly composed of carbs and water, and are rich in simple sugars, such as fructose, sucrose, and glucose. Despite their high carbohydrate and sugar content, the glycemic index is low, ranging from 29 to 44. The glycemic index is a measure of how food affects the rise in blood sugar levels after eating. Low values are associated with various health benefits. Fruit often score low on the glycemic index, probably due to their high fiber and polyphenol content that helps slow down carbohydrate digestion.

Fiber:

Apples are very rich in fiber. A single medium-sized apple contains about 4 grams of fiber, about 17% of the recommended daily intake. A portion of their fiber content is made up of both insoluble and soluble fibers called pectin. Soluble fiber has been associated with numerous beneficial effects on health, partly mediated by their effect on the friendly bacteria in the intestine. Fiber may also help improve satiety and cause weight loss, while lowering blood sugar levels and improving the function of the digestive system.

Vitamins and minerals:

Apples contain many vitamins and minerals, but not in high amounts. However, apples are usually a good source of vitamin C. Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, is a common antioxidant in fruits. It is an essential dietary nutrient that has many important functions in the body.

Phytonutrients in apples:

Phytonutrients are substances found in plant foods, known to have biological effects. In addition to the vitamins and minerals, apples are high in phytonutrients, which are responsible for some of the beneficial effects on health.

Quercetin:

A nutrient found in some plant foods, shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-cancer and anti-depressant effects in animal studies.

Catechin:

A natural antioxidant, also found in large amounts in green tea. Shown to improve brain and muscle function in animal studies.

Chlorogenic Acid:

Also found in coffee, chlorogenic acid has been shown to lower blood sugar and cause weight loss in some studies. There are two properties of apples that make them a weight loss friendly food. They are high in fiber and low in energy density.

Both of these have been shown to lead to reduced calorie intake and significant weight loss in the long-term. In one study, women who were instructed to eat 300 grams of apples (10.6 ounces or 1.5 large apples) per day lost 2.9 lbs (1.3 kg) over a period of 12 weeks. For this reason, eating apples may be a useful addition to a weight loss diet, especially if eaten between or before meals.

Health Benefits of Apples:

Given the immense popularity of apples, especially among health conscious people, it is not surprising to see that they have been studied quite thoroughly

Blood Sugar Control and Type 2 Diabetes:

There is some evidence that eating apples can help lower blood sugar levels and protect against diabetes. This makes sense given the fiber content, but apples (probably because of the fiber) have been shown to help reduce blood sugar levels. Some of the antioxidants in apples also appear to be able to slow down digestion of sugars, so that they get absorbed slower. In one study of 38,018 women, eating 1 or more apples per day was linked to a 28% lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Blood Cholesterol and Heart Disease:

Several studies have looked at the effect of apples on risk factors for heart disease. One of the studies, done in hamsters, showed that apples can reduce total cholesterol levels and lead to drastic reductions (48%) in plaque buildup inside the arteries. If these animal studies were to apply to humans, it would mean that apples could be highly useful in helping to prevent cardiovascular disease (heart attacks and strokes). One study in Finland showed that the risk of dying from heart disease was 43% lower in women, and 19% lower in men, for those who consumed more than 54 grams (1.9 ounces) of apples per day.

Cancer:

Numerous studies in test tubes have shown that apples, apple juice, or some of the phytonutrients in apples, can have anti-cancer effects. There have also been some animal studies showing that apple phytonutrients can protect against cancers of the lungs and colon.

In a study titled “Does an apple a day keep the oncologist away?“, those who consumed 1 or more apples per day were at a lower risk of getting cancer, including a 20% lower risk of colorectal cancer and 18% lower risk of breast cancer.

Potential Adverse Effects:

Apples are generally well tolerated. However, they may cause problems for people with irritable bowel syndrome as apples contain FODMAPs, carbohydrates that are known to upset the digestive system. Apples also contain fructose, which can be problematic for people with fructose intolerance.

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