March, 2015

6 Things The World’s Most Successful “Diets” Have in Common

Many diets have stood the test of time. They became popular a long time ago, but people are still doing them and still getting results. This includes, but is not limited to:

People tend to focus on (and argue about) what sets these diets apart. So far, this “debate” has not been productive. Not by a long shot. Perhaps, instead of arguing, we should be focusing on all the things these diets have in common? Chances are that these are universal laws that work across the board, and can deliver results no matter what the rest of your diet is composed of.

The truth is, all the diets (or “ways of eating”) mentioned above, and all diets shown to be compatible with long-term health, do have a few important commonalities. Here are 6 things that all successful “diets” have in common.

1. They Are Low in Added Sugar

Added sugar is the single worst ingredient in the diet. Although some people can tolerate moderate amounts of sugar without problems, most people are eating way too much.

When people eat too much sugar, it overloads the liver, which is forced to turn the sugar into fat. Part of the fat gets shipped out of the liver as VLDL cholesterol, raising blood triglycerides, but some of it also remains in the liver. Sugar is believed to be a major driver of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. It has also been associated with many diseases, including some of the world’s biggest killers. This includes obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Sugar is also “empty” calories, because it supplies a large amount of energy with literally no essential nutrients. Pretty much everyone agrees that added sugar is bad. For this reason, most successful diets make it one of the main priorities to cut back on added sugar.

Bottom Line: There is universal agreement that a lot of added sugar is unhealthy, and most successful diets recommend limiting it.

2. They Eliminate Refined Carbohydrates

Another ingredient that people agree is unhealthy, is refined carbs. Refined carbohydrates are usually grains that have had all the beneficial stuff removed. The most common one is refined wheat flour, which is consumed in massive amounts in Western countries. Refined grains are made by pulverizing whole grains and removing the bran and endosperm, which are the fibrous and nutritious parts. For this reason, refined grains contain little more than starch, chains of glucose molecules. Refined starch provides lots of energy with almost no essential nutrients (empty calories). Without the fiber found in the whole grain, starch can cause rapid spikes in blood sugar levels, leading to cravings and overeating a few hours later when blood sugar comes crashing down. Studies have linked consumption of refined carbohydrates with all sorts of metabolic diseases, including obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Although some diets (like paleo and low-carb) take things a step further and eliminate grains altogether, all successful diets at least emphasize limiting refined grains and replacing them with their whole, healthier counterparts.

Bottom Line: All successful diets eliminate refined grains like wheat flour, which is very unhealthy. However, some diets take things a step further and eliminate grains altogether.

3. They Eliminate Industrial Vegetable Oils

Industrial vegetable oils entered the human diet only recently. Until about a 100 years ago, we simply didn’t have the technology to process them. This includes soybean oil, canola oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil and a few others. There are many problems with these oils. One of the main ones is their high content of polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acids, which most people are eating way too much of. There is evidence that linoleic acid, the main omega-6 fatty acid in vegetable oils, gets incorporated into the body’s fat cells. It also finds its way into LDL lipoproteins, making them much more likely to become oxidized. This is a key step in the heart disease process. They may also contribute to endothelial dysfunction, one of the earliest steps in the pathway towards heart disease. Whether they actually cause or protect from heart disease is controversial. Some observational studies show them to be protective, but many controlled trials suggest that they may be harmful. There are also many observational studies linking vegetable oil consumption to cancer.

Also, the way these oils are manufactured is highly disgusting, and pretty much all of the beneficial nutrients are removed from the oils. Therefore, just like added sugars and refined grains, vegetable oils classify as “empty” calories. Out of all the diets and dietary patterns shown to be compatible with long-term health, none of them included industrial vegetable oils.

Keep in mind that this does not apply to coconut oil or olive oil, which are completely different and extremely healthy.

Bottom Line: Industrial vegetable oils are incredibly harmful and contribute to numerous problems at the cellular level. No diet shown to be compatible with long-term health includes vegetable oils.

4. They Eliminate Artificial Trans Fats

Pretty much everyone agrees that artificial trans fats are unhealthy.

Trans fats are usually made by “hydrogenating” vegetable oils, which makes them solid at room temperature and increases shelf life. Numerous studies link trans fats to increased inflammation, and strong associations have been found between trans fat consumption and heart disease. Trans fats are toxic, unnatural and there is absolutely nothing beneficial about them.

Bottom Line: Trans fats are highly toxic, made by hydrogenating vegetable oils. Many studies show a link to inflammation and diseases like heart disease.

5. They Are High in Vegetables and Fiber

The different “diets” eliminate all sorts of different foods. For example, plant-based diets minimize (or eliminate) animal foods, while low-carb and paleo diets eliminate grains. However, one of the things that all diets include is vegetables. There is universal agreement that vegetables are healthy and the evidence supports it. Numerous studies show that vegetable consumption is linked to reduced risk of disease.

Vegetables are high in antioxidants, all sorts of nutrients, and are loaded with fiber, which helps with weight loss and feeds the friendly bacteria in the gut. Most diets also include fruit. Even low-carb diets allow berries and small amounts of fruit (a low-carb diet is NOT no-carb).

Bottom Line: All successful diets emphasize eating plenty of vegetables, and in most cases fruit as well. These foods are high in antioxidants and healthy prebiotic fibers.

6. They Focus on Foods Instead of Calories

One interesting thing that all of these diets have in common, is that none of them emphasize calorie restriction. Instead, they put the emphasis on eating whole, single ingredient, healthy foods. Although calories are obviously important for weight management, simply restricting calories without regard to the foods you eat is rarely effective in the long-term.

Instead of trying to lose weight or restrict calories, make it your goal to nourish your body and become healthier. Most successful diets emphasize a lifestyle change that includes whole foods, and let weight loss follow as a natural side effect.

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10 Proven Benefits of Spirulina (No. 1 is Very Impressive)

Spirulina is incredibly good for you. It is loaded with nutrients that can have powerful effects on your body and brain. Here are 10 evidence-based health benefits of spirulina.

1. Spirulina is Extremely High in Many Nutrients.

Spirulina is an organism that grows in both fresh and salt water. It is a type of bacteria called cyanobacterium, which is often referred to as blue-green algae.

Just like plants, cyanobacteria can produce energy out of sunlight, via the process called photosynthesis. Spirulina was consumed by the Aztecs back in the day, but became popular again when NASA proposed that it could be grown in space and used by astronauts. A standard daily dose of spirulina is 1-3 grams, but doses of up to 10 grams per day have been used effectively.

This is what spirulina looks like, in both tablet and powder form:

It is actually quite amazing how nutritious it is. A single tablespoon (7 grams) of dried spirulina powder contains:

  • Protein: 4 grams.

  • Vitamin B1 (Thiamin): 11% of the RDA.

  • Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): 15% of the RDA.

  • Vitamin B3 (Niacin): 4% of the RDA.

  • Copper: 21% of the RDA.

  • Iron: 11% of the RDA.

  • It also contains decent amounts of magnesium, potassium and manganese, and small amounts of almost every other nutrient that we need.

This is coming with only 20 calories, and 1.7 grams of digestible carbohydrate. Gram for gram, this means that spirulina may literally be the single most nutritious food on the planet. A tablespoon of spirulina contains a small amount of fat (around 1 gram), including both Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids in about a 1.5:1 ratio.

The quality of the protein in spirulina is considered excellent, comparable to eggs. It contains all the essential amino acids that we need. It is often claimed that spirulina contains vitamin B12, but this is false. It contains pseudovitamin B12, which has not been shown to be effective in humans.

2. Spirulina Has Powerful Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory Properties.

Oxidative damage can harm our DNA and cells. This damage can drive chronic inflammation, which contributes to cancer and other diseases. Spirulina is a fantastic source of antioxidants, which can protect against oxidative damage. The main active component is called phycocyanin. This antioxidant substance also gives spirulina its unique blue-green color. Phycocyanin can fight free radicals and inhibit production of inflammatory signalling molecules, providing impressive antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Bottom Line: Phocyanin is the main active compound in spirulina. It has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

3. Spirulina Can Lower LDL and Triglyceride Levels.

Heart disease is currently the world’s biggest killer. It is known that many measurable factors, termed risk factors, are linked to an increased risk of heart disease. As it turns out, spirulina has been shown to have beneficial effects on many of them. For example, it can lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, while raising HDL (the “good”) cholesterol.

In a study of 25 people with type 2 diabetes, 2 grams per day of spirulina significantly improved these markers. Another study in people with high cholesterol found that 1 gram of spirulina per day lowered triglycerides by 16.3% and LDL by 10.1%. Several other studies have shown favorable effects, but with higher doses of 4.5-8 grams of spirulina per day.

Bottom Line: Studies have shown that spirulina can lower triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, and sometimes may raise HDL (the “good”) cholesterol.

4. Spirulina Protects LDL Cholesterol From Becoming Oxidized.

Fatty structures in the body are susceptible to oxidative damage. This is known as lipid peroxidation, which is known to be a key driver of many serious diseases. For example, one of the key steps in the pathway towards heart disease is LDL lipoproteins in the blood becoming oxidized. Interestingly, the antioxidants in spirulina appear to be particularly effective at reducing lipid peroxidation. This has been shown numerous times, in both human and animal studies.

In a study of 37 individuals with type 2 diabetes, 8 grams of spirulina per day significantly reduced markers of oxidative damage. It also increased levels of antioxidant enzymes in the blood.

Bottom Line: Fatty structures in the body can become oxidized, which drives the progression of many diseases. The antioxidants in spirulina can help prevent this from happening.

5. Spirulina Appears to Have Anti-Cancer Properties, Especially Against Oral Cancer

Some evidence suggests that spirulina can have anti-cancer properties. For example, some research in test animals shows that it can reduce cancer occurrence and tumor size.

Spirulina has been particularly well studied with regard to oral cancer, which is cancer of the mouth. One study looked at the effects of spirulina on 87 people from India with precancerous lesions called OSMF in the mouth. After using 1 gram per day for 1 year, 45% of the spirulina group had a complete regression of lesions in the mouth, compared to only 7% in the control group. When they stopped taking the spirulina, almost half of the responders developed these lesions again the following year. In another study of 40 subjects with OSMF precancerous lesions, 1 gram of spirulina per day led to greater improvement in symptoms than the drug Pentoxyfilline.

Bottom Line: Spirulina may have some anti-cancer properties, especially against a type of precancerous lesion called OSMF (oral submucous fibrosis).

6. Studies Show That it May Reduce Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is an important driver of many killer diseases. This includes heart attacks, strokes and chronic kidney disease. While 1 gram of spirulina is ineffective, a dose of 4.5 grams per day has been shown to reduce blood pressure in individuals with normal blood pressure levels. This is thought to be driven by an increased production of nitric oxide, a signalling molecule that helps the blood vessels relax and dilate.

Bottom Line: In one study, a higher dose of spirulina has been shown to lead to lower blood pressure levels, a major risk factor for many diseases.

7. Spirulina Improves Symptoms of Allergic Rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis is characterized by inflammation in the nasal airways. It is triggered by environmental allergens, such as pollen, animal hair or even wheat dust. Spirulina is a popular alternative treatment for symptoms of allergic rhinitis, and there is evidence that it can be effective.In one study of 127 people with allergic rhinitis, 2 grams per day dramatically reduced symptoms like nasal discharge, sneezing, nasal congestion and itching.

Bottom Line: Spirulina supplements have been shown to be very effective against allergic rhinitis, helping to reduce various symptoms.

8. Spirulina May be Effective Against Anemia

There are many different forms of anemia. The most common one is characterized by a reduction in hemoglobin or red blood cells in the blood. Anemia is fairly common in the elderly, leading to prolonged feelings of weakness and fatigue. In a study of 40 older people with a history of anemia, spirulina supplementation increased the hemoglobin content of red blood cells. Immune function also improved. However, this is just one study, and more research is needed before any recommendations can be made.

Bottom Line: One study shows that spirulina may be effective against anemia in the elderly. More research is needed.

9. Muscle Strength and Endurance May Improve

Exercise-induced oxidative damage is a major contributor to muscle fatigue. Certain plant foods have antioxidant properties that can help athletes and physically active individuals minimize this damage. Spirulina appears to be beneficial, with some studies showing improved muscle strength and endurance.

In two studies, spirulina was shown to enhance endurance, significantly increasing the time it took for people to become fatigued. Another study in college athletes found that spirulina supplementation increased muscle strength, but did not have any effect on endurance.

Bottom Line: Some studies have shown that spirulina supplementation can enhance endurance, and one study shows that it can increase muscle strength.

10. Spirulina May Help With Blood Sugar Control

Animal studies have shown that spirulina can significantly lower blood sugar levels. In some cases, it has outperformed popular diabetes drugs, including Metformin. There is also some evidence that spirulina can be effective in humans. In a study of 25 patients with type 2 diabetes, 2 grams of spirulina led to an impressive reduction in blood sugar levels. HbA1c, a marker for long-term blood sugar levels, decreased from 9% to 8%, which is substantial. Studies estimate that a 1% reduction in this marker can lower the risk of diabetes-related death by 21%. However, this study was small and only lasted for 2 months, so take this with a grain of salt.

11. Anything Else?

Spirulina may also have other beneficial effects, such as helping to “detoxify” the heavy metal arsenic from the body. If you want to try this out yourself, then there is a good selection of spirulina supplements on Amazon, with thousands of interesting customer reviews. At the end of the day, spirulina is incredibly healthy.

It is one of the few “superfoods” that are actually worthy of that term.

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Is Skipping Breakfast Bad For You? The Surprising Truth!

“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” This myth is pervasive in society. Breakfast is perceived as healthy, even more important than other meals. Even today’s official nutrition guidelines recommend that we eat breakfast. It is claimed that breakfast helps us lose weight, and that skipping it can raise our risk of obesity. This seems like a problem, because up to 25% of Americans regularly skip breakfast. However, new high-quality studies have started questioning the universal advice that everyone should eat breakfast. This article takes a detailed look at breakfast, and whether skipping it is really going to harm your health and make you fat.

Breakfast Eaters Tend to Have Healthier Habits

It’s true, many studies show that breakfast eaters tend to be healthier. For example, they are less likely to be overweight/obese, and have a lower risk of several chronic diseases. For this reason, many experts have claimed that breakfast must be good for you. However, these studies are so-called observational studies, which can not demonstrate causation. These studies show that people who eat breakfast are more likely to be healthier, but they can not prove that the breakfast itself caused it. Chances are that breakfast eaters have other healthy lifestyle habits that can explain this. For example, people who eat breakfast also tend to eat a healthier diet, with more fiber and micronutrients. On the other hand, people who skip breakfast tend to smoke more, drink more alcohol and exercise less. Perhaps these are the reasons that breakfast eaters are healthier, on average. It may not have anything to do with the breakfast itself. In fact, higher quality studies called randomized controlled trials suggest that it doesn’t really matter whether you eat or skip breakfast.

Bottom Line: Breakfast eaters tend to be healthier and leaner than breakfast skippers. This may be due to the fact that breakfast eaters have other healthy lifestyle habits.

Eating Breakfast Does Not Boost Your Metabolism

Some people claim that eating breakfast “kick-starts” the metabolism, but this is a myth. These people are referring to the thermic effect of food, which is the increase in calories burned that occurs after you eat. However, what matters for metabolism is the total amount of food consumed throughout the day. It makes no difference at which times, or how often, you eat. Studies show that there is no difference in calories burned over 24 hours between people who eat or skip breakfast.

Bottom Line: Whether you eat or skip breakfast has no effect on the amount of calories you burn throughout the day. This is a myth.

Skipping Breakfast Does Not Cause Weight Gain

As mentioned above, people who skip breakfast tend to weigh more than people who eat breakfast. This may seem paradoxical, because how can not eating make you gain more weight? Well, some claim that skipping breakfast causes you to become very hungry so that you overeat later in the day. This seems to make sense, but isn’t supported by the evidence. It is true that skipping breakfast causes people to be more hungry and eat more at lunch, but this is not enough to overcompensate for the breakfast that was skipped. In fact, some studies have even shown that skipping breakfast may reduce overall calorie intake by up to 400 calories per day. This seems logical, because you are effectively removing an entire meal from your diet each day. Interestingly, the eat/skip breakfast dilemma was recently tested in a high-quality randomized controlled trial. This was a 4-month long study that compared recommendations to eat or skip breakfast in 309 overweight/obese men and women. After 4 months, there was no difference in weight between groups. It simply didn’t matter whether people ate or skipped breakfast. These results are supported by other studies on the effects of breakfast habits on weight loss. Skipping breakfast had no visible effects.

Bottom Line: Higher-quality studies show that it makes no difference whether people eat or skip breakfast. Skipping breakfast makes you eat more at lunch, but not enough to compensate for the breakfast you skipped.

Skipping Breakfast May Even Have Some Health Benefits

Skipping breakfast is a common part of many intermittent fasting methods. This includes the 16/8 method, which consists of a 16-hour overnight fast followed by an 8-hour eating window. This eating window usually ranges from lunch until dinner, which means that you skip breakfast every day. Intermittent fasting has been shown to effectively reduce calorie intake, increase weight loss and improve metabolic health. However, it’s important to mention that intermittent fasting and/or skipping breakfast does not suit everyone. The effects vary by individual. Some people may experience positive effects, while others may develop headaches, drops in blood sugar, faintness and lack of concentration.

Bottom Line: Skipping breakfast is a part of many intermittent fasting protocols, such as the 16/8 method. Intermittent fasting can have numerous health benefits.

Take Home Message

The evidence is clear, there is nothing “special” about breakfast. It probably does not matter whether you eat or skip breakfast, as long as you eat healthy for the rest of the day. Breakfast does not “jump start” your metabolism and skipping it does not automatically make you overeat and gain weight. This is a myth, based on observational studies that have since been proven wrong in randomized controlled trials (real science). At the end of the day, breakfast is optional, and it all boils down to personal preference. If you feel hungry in the morning and you like breakfast, go ahead and eat a healthy breakfast. A protein-rich breakfast is best. However, if you don’t feel hungry in the morning and don’t feel that you need breakfast, then don’t eat it. It’s as simple as that.

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The 18 Most Addictive Foods (And the 17 Least Addictive)

Up to 20% of people may suffer from food addiction or addictive-like eating behavior. This number is even higher among people with obesity. Food addiction involves being addicted to food in the same way as drug addicts are addicted to drugs. People who have food addiction are unable to control their consumption of certain foods. However, people don’t just get addicted to any food. Some foods are much more likely to cause symptoms of addiction than others. Foods That Can Cause Addictive-Like Eating. Researchers at the University of Michigan studied addictive-like eating in 518 participants. They used the Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS) as a reference. This is the most commonly used tool to assess food addiction. All participants got a list of 35 foods, both processed and unprocessed. They rated how likely they were to experience problems with each of the 35 foods, on a scale from 1 (not at all addictive) to 7 (extremely addictive). In this study, 7–10% of participants were diagnosed with full-blown food addiction. What’s more, 92% of participants had addictive-like eating behavior towards some foods. They repeatedly had the desire to quit eating them, but were unable to. Below, you’ll see the results about which foods were the most and least addictive.

Bottom Line: In a recent study, 92% of participants had addictive-like eating behavior towards certain foods. 7-10% had full-blown food addiction.

The 18 Most Addictive Foods

Not surprisingly, most of the foods rated as addictive were processed foods. These foods were usually high in sugar, fat or both. The number following each food is the average score given in the study mentioned above, on a scale from 1 (not at all addictive) to 7 (extremely addictive).

  • Pizza (4.01)
  • Chocolate (3.73)
  • Chips (3.73)
  • Cookies (3.71)
  • Ice cream (3.68)
  • French fries (3.60)
  • Cheeseburgers (3.51)
  • Soda (not diet) (3.29)
  • Cake (3.26)
  • Cheese (3.22)
  • Bacon (3.03)
  • Fried chicken (2.97)
  • Rolls (plain) (2.73)
  • Popcorn (buttered) (2.64)
  • Breakfast cereal (2.59)
  • Gummy candy (2.57)
  • Steak (2.54)
  • Muffins (2.50)

Bottom Line: The 18 most addictive foods were also the most processed ones, with the highest amounts of fat and added sugar.

The 17 Least Addictive Foods

The least addictive foods were mostly whole, unprocessed foods.

Bottom Line: The least addictive foods were almost all whole, unprocessed foods.

What Makes Junk Food Addictive?

Addictive-like eating behavior involves a lot more than just a lack of willpower. There are biochemical reasons why some people lose control over their consumption. It has repeatedly been linked to processed foods, especially those high in added sugar and/or fat. Processed foods are usually engineered to be “hyperpalatable” – so they taste super good. They also contain high amounts of calories, and cause major blood sugar imbalances. These are known factors that can cause food cravings. However, the biggest contributor to addictive-like eating behaviour is your brain. The brain has a reward centre, which lights up and starts secreting dopamine and other feel-good chemicals when we eat. This reward centre explains why most of us “enjoy” eating. It makes sure that we eat enough food to get all the energy and nutrients that we need. Eating processed junk food releases massive amounts of feel-good chemicals, compared to unprocessed foods. This yields a much more powerful “reward” in the brain. Your brain then seeks more reward by causing cravings for these hyper-rewarding foods. This can possibly lead to a vicious cycle, called addictive-like eating behavior or food addiction.

Bottom Line: Processed foods can cause blood sugar imbalances and cravings. Eating junk food also makes your brain release feel-good chemicals, which can lead to even more cravings.

Take Home Message

Food addiction and addictive-like eating behavior are serious problems that certain foods are more likely to trigger. This is yet another reason to base your diet mostly on eating whole, single-ingredient foods. They release an appropriate amount of feel-good chemicals, while ensuring that you’re not overeating. In the end, you should control what foods you eat — not the other way around.

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