September, 2015

How Protein Can Help You Lose Weight Naturally

Protein is the single most important nutrient for weight loss and a better looking body. A high protein intake boosts metabolism, reduces appetite and changes several weight-regulating hormones. Protein can help you lose weight and belly fat, and it works via several different mechanisms. This is a detailed review of the effects of protein on weight loss.

Protein Changes The Levels of Several Weight Regulating Hormones

Your weight is actively regulated by your brain, particularly an area called the hypothalamus. In order for your brain to determine when and how much to eat, it processes multiple different types of information. Some of the most important signals to the brain are hormones that change in response to feeding. A higher protein intake actually increases levels of the satiety (appetite-reducing) hormones GLP-1, peptide YY and cholecystokinin, while reducing your levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin. By replacing carbs and fat with protein, you reduce the hunger hormone and boost several satiety hormones. This leads to a major reduction in hunger and is the main reason protein helps you lose weight. It can make you eat fewer calories automatically.

Bottom Line: Protein reduces levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin, while it boosts the appetite-reducing hormones GLP-1, peptide YY and cholecystokinin. This leads to an automatic reduction in calorie intake.

Digesting and Metabolizing Protein Burns Calories

After you eat, some calories are used for the purpose of digesting and metabolizing the food. This is often termed the thermic effect of food (TEF). Although not all sources agree on the exact figures, it is clear that protein has a much higher thermic effect (20-30%) compared to carbs (5-10%) and fat (0-3%). If we go with a thermic effect of 30% for protein, this means that 100 calories of protein only end up as 70 usable calories.

Bottom Line: About 20-30% of protein calories are burned while the body is digesting and metabolizing the protein.

Protein Makes You Burn More Calories (Increases “Calories Out”)

Due to the high thermic effect and several other factors, a high protein intake tends to boost metabolism. It makes you burn more calories around the clock, including during sleep.

A high protein intake has been shown to boost metabolism and increase the amount of calories burned by about 80 to 100 per day. This effect is particularly pronounced during overfeeding, or while eating at a caloric surplus. In one study, overfeeding with a high protein diet increased calories burned by 260 per day. By making you burn more calories, high protein diets have a “metabolic advantage” over diets that are lower in protein.

Bottom Line: A high protein intake can make you burn 80-100 more calories per day, with one study showing an increase of 260 calories during overfeeding.

Protein Reduces Appetite and Makes You Eat Fewer Calories

Protein can reduce hunger and appetite via several different mechanisms. This can lead to an automatic reduction in calorie intake. In other words, you end up eating fewer calories without having to count calories or consciously control portions. Numerous studies have shown that when people increase their protein intake, they start eating fewer calories. This works on a meal-to-meal basis, as well as a sustained day-to-day reduction in calorie intake as long as protein intake is kept high. In one study, protein at 30% of calories caused people to automatically drop their calorie intake by 441 calories per day, which is a huge amount. So, high protein diets not only have a metabolic advantage – they also have an “appetite advantage,” making it much easier to cut calories compared to lower protein diets.

Bottom Line: High-protein diets are highly satiating, so they lead to reduced hunger and appetite compared to lower protein diets. This makes it much easier to restrict calories on a high-protein diet.

Protein Cuts Cravings and Reduces Desire for Late-Night Snacking

Cravings are the dieter’s worst enemy. They are one of the biggest reasons why people tend to fail on their diets. Another major problem is late-night snacking. Many people who have a tendency to gain weight get cravings at night, so they snack in the evening. These calories are added on top of all the calories they ate during the day. Interestingly, protein can have a powerful effect on both cravings and the desire to snack at night. This graph is from a study comparing a high-protein diet and a normal-protein diet in overweight men:

The high-protein group is the blue bar, while the normal-protein group is the red bar. In this study, protein at 25% of calories reduced cravings by 60% and cut the desire for late-night snacking by half! Breakfast may be the most important meal to load up on the protein. In one study in teenage girls, a high-protein breakfast significantly reduced cravings.

Bottom Line: Eating more protein can lead to major reductions in cravings and the desire to snack late at night. These changes should make it much easier to stick to a healthy diet.

Protein Makes You Lose Weight, Even Without Conscious Calorie Restriction

Protein works on both sides of the “calories in vs calories out” equation. It reduces calories in and boosts calories out. For this reason, it is not surprising to see that high-protein diets lead to weight loss, even without intentionally restricting calories, portions, fat or carbs. In one study of 19 overweight individuals, increasing protein intake to 30% of calories caused a massive drop in calorie intake:

In this study, the participants lost an average of 11 pounds over a period of 12 weeks. Keep in mind that they only added protein to their diet, they did not intentionally restrict anything. Although the results aren’t always this dramatic, the majority of studies do show that high-protein diets lead to significant weight loss. A higher protein intake is also associated with less belly fat, the harmful fat that builds up around the organs and causes disease.

All that being said, losing weight is not the most important factor. It is keeping it off in the long-term that really counts. Many people can go on “a diet” and lose weight, but most end up gaining the weight back. Interestingly, a higher protein intake can also help prevent weight regain. In one study, a modest increase in protein intake (from 15 to 18% of calories) reduced weight regain after weight loss by 50%. So not only can protein help you lose weight, it can also help you keep it off in the long-term.

Bottom Line: Eating a high-protein diet can cause weight loss, even without calorie counting, portion control or carb restriction. A modest increase in protein intake can also help prevent weight regain.

Protein Helps Prevent Muscle Loss and Metabolic Slowdown

Weight loss doesn’t always equal fat loss. When you lose weight, muscle mass tends to be reduced as well. However, what you really want to lose is body fat, both subcutaneous fat (under the skin) and visceral fat (around organs). Losing muscle is a side effect of weight loss that most people don’t want. Another side effect of losing weight is that the metabolic rate tends to decrease. In other words, you end up burning fewer calories than you did before you lost the weight. This is often referred to as “starvation mode,” and can amount to several hundred fewer calories burned each day. Eating plenty of protein can reduce muscle loss, which should help keep your metabolic rate higher as you lose body fat.

Strength training is another major factor that can reduce muscle loss and metabolic slowdown when losing weight. For this reason, a high protein intake and heavy strength training are two incredibly important components of an effective fat loss plan. Not only do they help keep your metabolism high, they also make sure that what is underneath the fat actually looks good. Without protein and strength training, you may end up looking “skinny-fat” instead of fit and lean.

Bottom Line: Eating plenty of protein can help prevent muscle loss when you lose weight. It can also help keep your metabolic rate high, especially when combined with heavy strength training.

How Much Protein is Optimal?

The DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) for protein is only 46 and 56 grams for the average woman and man, respectively. This amount may be enough to prevent deficiency, but it is far from optimal if you are trying to lose weight (or gain muscle).

Most of the studies on protein and weight loss expressed protein intake as a percentage of calories. According to these studies, aiming for protein at 30% of calories seems to be very effective for weight loss. You can find the number of grams by multiplying your calorie intake by 0.075. For example, on a 2000 calorie diet you would eat 2000 * 0.075 = 150 grams of protein. You can also aim for a certain number based on your weight. For example, aiming for 0.7-1 gram of protein per pound of lean mass is a common recommendation (1.5 – 2.2 grams per kilogram).

It is best to spread your protein intake throughout the day by eating protein with every meal. Keep in mind that these numbers don’t need to be exact, anything in the range of 25-35% of calories should be effective.

Bottom Line: In order to lose weight, aiming for 25-35% of calories as protein may be optimal. 30% of calories amounts to 150 grams of protein on a 2000 calorie diet.

How to Get More Protein in Your Diet

Increasing your protein intake is simple. Just eat more of protein-rich foods. These include:

  • Meats: Chicken, turkey, lean beef, pork, etc.
  • Fish: Salmon, sardines, haddock, trout, etc.
  • Eggs: All types.
  • Dairy: Milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.
  • Legumes: Kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, etc.

If you’re eating low-carb, then you can choose fattier cuts of meat. If you’re not on a low-carb diet then try to emphasize lean meats as much as possible. This makes it easier to keep protein high without getting too many calories. Taking a protein supplement can also be a good idea if you struggle to reach your protein goals. Whey protein powder has been shown to have numerous benefits, including increased weight loss. Even though eating more protein is simple when you think about it, actually integrating this into your life and nutrition plan can be difficult. I recommend that you use a calorie/nutrition tracker in the beginning. Weigh and measure everything you eat in order to make sure that you are hitting your protein targets. You don’t need to do this forever, but it is very important in the beginning until you get a good idea of what a high-protein diet looks like.

Bottom Line: There are many high-protein foods you can eat to boost your protein intake. It is recommended to use a nutrition tracker in the beginning to make sure that you are getting enough.

Protein is The Easiest, Simplest and Most Delicious Way to Lose Weight

When it comes to fat loss and a better looking body, protein is the king of nutrients. You don’t need to restrict anything to benefit from a higher protein intake. It is all about adding to your diet. This is particularly appealing because most high-protein foods also taste really good. Eating more of them is easy and satisfying. A high-protein diet can also be an effective obesity prevention strategy, not something that you just use temporarily to lose fat. By permanently increasing your protein intake, you tip the “calories in vs calories out” balance in your favor. Over months, years or decades, the difference in your waistline could be huge. However, keep in mind that calories still count. Protein can reduce hunger and boost metabolism, but you won’t lose weight if you don’t eat fewer calories than you burn. It is definitely possible to overeat and negate the calorie deficit caused by the higher protein intake, especially if you eat a lot of junk food. For this reason, you should still base your diet mostly on whole, single ingredient foods.

Although this article focused only on weight loss, protein also has numerous other benefits for health.

Read More

12 High-Carb Foods That Are Actually Super Healthy

Carbs have been unfairly blamed for causing the obesity epidemic. However, the truth is that not all carbs are created equal. Processed junk foods high in sugar and refined grains are definitely unhealthy and fattening. But this has no relevance to whole, fiber-rich foods that also happen to contain carbohydrates. Although low-carb diets can be beneficial for some people, this does not mean that all high-carb foods are “bad.” Here is a list of 12 high-carb foods that also happen to be incredibly healthy. Unless you are on a low-carb diet for health reasons, then there is absolutely no reason to avoid these delicious foods.

1. Quinoa

Quinoa is a nutritious seed that has become incredibly popular in the natural health community. It is classified as a pseudocereal, a seed that is prepared and eaten like a grain. Cooked quinoa is 21.3% carbs, making it a high-carb food. However, it is also a good source of protein and fiber. Quinoa is rich in many minerals and plant compounds. It has been linked to health benefits like improved blood sugar control. It does not contain any gluten, making it a popular alternative to wheat on a gluten-free diet. Quinoa is also very filling since it is relatively high in fiber and protein. For this reason, it may be an excellent addition to an effective weight loss diet.

Bottom Line: Quinoa is highly nutritious. It may have numerous health benefits, including improved blood sugar control. Quinoa is also high in protein and fiber, so it may be useful for weight loss.

2. Oats

Oats may be the healthiest whole grain food on the planet. They are a great source of many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Raw oats contain 66% carbs, and nearly 11% of that is fiber. They are particularly high in a powerful soluble fiber called beta-glucan. Oats are also a relatively good source of protein, containing more than most other grains. Many studies have shown that oats may reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol levels. Eating oats may also lower blood sugar levels, especially in diabetics. Furthermore, oats are very filling and may help you lose weight.

Bottom Line: Oats contain many beneficial nutrients, including fiber and protein. Oats have been shown to lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

3. Buckwheat

Buckwheat is also a pseudocereal. Despite the name, buckwheat is not related to wheat in any way, and does not contain gluten. Raw buckwheat contains 71.5% carbs, and cooked buckwheat groats contain about 20% carbs. Buckwheat is very nutritious, containing both protein and fiber. It also has more minerals and antioxidants than most grains. Eating buckwheat may be particularly beneficial for heart health and blood sugar control, especially in people with diabetes.

Bottom Line: Buckwheat is highly nutritious and contains more antioxidants and minerals than most grains. Eating buckwheat may have benefits for heart health and blood sugar control.

4. Bananas

Bananas are among the world’s most popular fruits.

They are made up of about 23% carbs, either in the form of starches or sugars. Unripe (green) bananas are higher in starches, which transform into natural sugars as the bananas ripen (turn yellow). Bananas are high in potassium, vitamin B6 and vitamin C. They also contain several beneficial plant compounds. Due to their potassium content, bananas may help lower blood pressure and improve heart health. Unripe bananas also contain decent amounts of resistant starch and pectin. Both of these support digestive health and feed the friendly gut bacteria.

Bottom Line: Bananas are high in potassium, which may help regulate blood pressure. Unripe bananas also contain resistant starch and pectin, which can improve digestive health.

5. Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are a delicious, nutritious tuber. Cooked sweet potatoes contain about 18–21% carbs. This carb content consists of starch, sugar and fiber. Sweet potatoes are a rich source of vitamin A (from beta-carotene), vitamin C and potassium. They are very rich in antioxidants, and may help reduce oxidative damage and the risk of several diseases.

Bottom Line: Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin A (from beta-carotene), as well as several other vitamins and antioxidants.

6. Beetroots

Beetroots are a purple-colored root vegetable, commonly referred to as beets. Raw and cooked beets contain about 8–10% carbs, made up of sugar and fiber. They are packed with vitamins, minerals, potent antioxidants and plant compounds. Beets are also high in inorganic nitrates, which transform into nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide helps to lower blood pressure and may decrease the risk of several diseases. Beet juice is also very high in inorganic nitrates, and is often used to enhance physical performance during endurance exercises.

Bottom Line: Beets are loaded with vitamins, minerals and plant compounds. They contain high amounts of inorganic nitrates, which can improve health and boost physical performance.

7. Oranges

Oranges are among the most popular fruits in the world. They are mainly composed of water and contain 11.8% carbs. Oranges are also a good source of fiber. Oranges are especially rich in vitamin C, potassium and some B-vitamins. They also contain citric acid, as well as several very potent plant compounds and antioxidants. Eating oranges may improve heart health and help prevent kidney stones. They may also increase the uptake of iron from food, reducing the risk of anemia.

Bottom Line: Oranges are a good source of fiber. They also contain very high amounts of vitamin C and plant compounds. Eating oranges may have benefits for heart health and help prevent anemia.

8. Blueberries

Blueberries are incredibly delicious. They have often been referred to as a “superfood” due to their powerful plant compounds and antioxidants. They consist mostly of water, as well as about 14.5% carbs. Blueberries also contain high amounts of many vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, vitamin K and manganese. Studies have shown that blueberries help protect the body from oxidative damage. They may also improve memory in older people.

Bottom Line: Blueberries are incredibly healthy. They contain many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and protect the body from oxidative damage.

9. Grapefruit

Grapefruit is a citrus fruit with a sweet, bitter and sour flavor.

It contains about 9% carbs and has high amounts of several vitamins, minerals and plant compounds. Eating grapefruit can aid weight loss and reduce insulin resistance. Furthermore, eating grapefruit may help prevent kidney stones, lower cholesterol levels and protect against colon cancer.

Bottom Line: Grapefruit contains various vitamins, minerals and plant compounds. It may help with weight loss and provide numerous health benefits.

10. Apples

Apples are a popular fruit with a sweet flavor and distinctive crunch. They are available in many colors, sizes and flavors, but generally contain about 13–15% carbs. Apples contain many vitamins and minerals, but usually only in small amounts. However, they are a decent source of vitamin C, antioxidants and healthy plant compounds. Eating apples may benefit health in several ways, such as improving blood sugar control and reducing the risk of heart disease. Apples may also decrease the risk of some types of cancer.

11. Kidney Beans

Kidney beans are a variety of the common bean. They are part of the legume family. Cooked kidney beans contain 22.8% carbs, in the form of starches and fiber. They are also high in protein. Kidney beans are rich in many vitamins, minerals and plant compounds. They also contain high amounts of antioxidants like anthocyanins and isoflavones. They may have numerous health benefits, such as improved blood sugar control and reduced risk of colon cancer. Just make sure to never eat them raw, because raw or improperly cooked kidney beans are toxic.

Bottom Line: Kidney beans contain many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Cooked kidney beans are also a good source of protein and have been linked with several health benefits.

12. Chickpeas

Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas are part of the legume family as well. Cooked chickpeas contain 27.4% carbs, of which 8% are fiber. They are also a good source of plant-based protein. Chickpeas contain many vitamins and minerals, including iron, phosphorus and B-vitamins. Eating chickpeas has been linked with improved heart and digestive health. They may also help prevent cancer (54, 55).

Bottom Line: Chickpeas are an excellent source of plant-based protein and contain many vitamins and minerals. Eating chickpeas has been linked to benefits for heart and digestive health, as well as cancer prevention.

Take Home Message

“Carbs” are not unhealthy. That is a myth. The truth is that some of the world’s healthiest foods are high in carbohydrates. Although they should not be eaten in large amounts if you’re on a low-carb diet, they can be important nutrient sources for others. Refined carbs are bad, but whole food sources of carbs are extremely healthy for most people. Period.

Read More

How to Gain Weight Fast and Safely

About two thirds of people in the US are either overweight or obese. However, there are also many people with the opposite problem of being too skinny. This is a concern, because being underweight can be just as bad for your health as being obese. Additionally, many people who are not clinically underweight still want to gain some muscle. Whether you are clinically underweight or simply a “hard gainer” struggling to gain some muscle weight, the main principles are the same. This article outlines a simple strategy to quickly gain weight, the healthy way.

What Does “Underweight” Really Mean?

Being underweight is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) below 18.5. This is estimated to be less than the body mass needed to sustain optimal health. Conversely, over 25 is considered overweight and over 30 is considered obese. Use this calculator to see where you fit on the BMI scale (opens in new tab). However, keep in mind that there are many problems with the BMI scale, which only looks at weight and height. It does not take muscle mass into account. Some people are naturally very skinny but still healthy. Being underweight according to this scale does not necessarily mean that you have a health problem. Being underweight is about 2-3 times as common among girls and women. In the US, 1% of men and 2.4% of women 20 years and older are underweight.

Bottom Line: Being underweight is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) below 18.5. It is much more common in women and girls.

What Are The Health Consequences of Being Underweight?

Obesity is currently one of the world’s biggest health problems. However, being underweight may be just as bad for your health as being obese. According to one study, being underweight was associated with a 140% greater risk of early death in men, and 100% in women. In this study, obesity was “only” associated with a 50% greater risk of early death, indicating that being underweight may be even worse for your health. Another study found increased risk of early death in underweight men, but not women. This indicates that being underweight may be worse for men. Being underweight can also impair immune function, raise your risk of infections, lead to osteoporosis and fractures, and cause fertility problems. People who are underweight are also much more likely to get sarcopenia (age-related muscle wasting), and may be at greater risk of dementia.

Bottom Line: Being underweight can be just as unhealthy as being obese, if not more. People who are underweight are at risk of osteoporosis, infections, fertility problems and early death.

Several Things Can Cause Someone to Become Underweight

There are several medical conditions that can cause unhealthy weight loss.

Here are a few of them:

  • Eating disorders: This includes anorexia nervosa, a serious mental disorder.
  • Thyroid problems: Having an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) can boost metabolism and cause unhealthy weight loss.
  • Celiac disease: The most severe form of gluten intolerance. Most people with celiac disease don’t know that they have it.
  • Diabetes: Having uncontrolled diabetes (mainly type 1) can lead to severe weight loss.
  • Cancer: Cancerous tumors often burn large amounts of calories and can cause someone to lose a lot of weight.
  • Infections: Certain infections can cause someone to become severely underweight. This includes parasites, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.

If you are underweight, then you may want to see a doctor in order to rule out a serious medical condition. This is particularly important if you have recently started losing large amounts of weight without even trying.

Bottom Line: There are several medical conditions that can cause unhealthy weight loss. If you are underweight, then see a doctor to rule out a serious health problem.

How to Gain Weight The Healthy Way

If you want to gain weight, then it is very important that you do it right. Binging on soda and donuts may help you gain weight, but it can destroy your health at the same time. If you are underweight, then you want to gain a balanced amount of muscle mass and subcutaneous fat, not a bunch of unhealthy belly fat. There are plenty of normal weight people who get type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other health problems often associated with obesity. Therefore, it is absolutely essential that you still eat healthy foods and live an overall healthy lifestyle.

Now let’s look at several effective ways to gain weight fast, without ruining your health at the same time.

Bottom Line: It is very important to eat mostly healthy foods even if you are trying to gain weight.

Eat More Calories Than Your Body Burns

The most important thing you can do to gain weight is to eat more calories than your body needs.

A caloric surplus (calories in > calories out) is needed. Without it, you won’t gain. Period. You can determine your calorie needs using this calorie calculator. If you want to gain weight slowly and steadily, then aim for 300-500 calories more than you burn each day according to the calculator. If you want to gain weight fast, then aim for something like 700-1000 calories above your maintenance level. Keep in mind that calorie calculators only provide estimates. Your needs may vary by several hundred calories per day, give or take. You don’t need to count calories for the rest of your life, but it helps to do it for the first few days/weeks to get a feel for how many calories you are eating. I recommend using tools like Cron-o-meter or MyFitnessPal to track your intake.

Bottom Line: You need to eat more calories than your body burns in order to gain weight. Aim for 300-500 calories per day above your maintenance level, or 700-1000 calories if you want to gain weight fast.

Eat Lots of Protein

The single most important nutrient for gaining healthy weight is protein.

Muscle is made of protein, and without it most of those extra calories may end up as body fat. Studies show that during periods of overfeeding, a high protein diet causes many of the extra calories to be turned into muscle. However, keep in mind that protein is a double-edged sword. It is also highly filling, so that it can reduce your hunger and appetite significantly. This can make it harder to get in enough calories. If you’re trying to gain weight, aim for 0.7-1 grams of protein per pound of body weight (1.5 – 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram). You can even go above that if your calorie intake is very high.

High-protein foods include meats, fish, eggs, many dairy products, legumes, nuts and others. Protein supplements like whey protein can also be useful if you struggle to get enough protein in your diet.

Bottom Line: Protein forms the building blocks of your muscles. Eating sufficient protein is required to gain muscle weight instead of just fat.

Eat Lots of Carbs and Fat, and Eat at Least 3 Times Per Day

Many people try restricting either carbs or fat when they are trying to lose weight. This is a bad idea if your goal is to gain weight, because it will make it harder to get in enough calories. Eat plenty of high-carb and high-fat foods if weight gain is a priority for you. It is best to eat plenty of protein, fat and carbs at each meal. It is also a bad idea to do intermittent fasting. This is useful for weight loss and health improvement, but can make it much harder to eat enough calories to gain weight. Make sure to eat at least 3 meals per day, and try to add in energy-dense snacks whenever possible.

Bottom Line: In order to gain weight, eat at least 3 meals per day and make sure to eat plenty of fat, carbs and protein.

Eat a Lot of Energy-Dense Foods and use Sauces, Spices and Condiments

Again, it is very important to eat mostly whole, single ingredient foods. The problem is that these foods tend to be more filling than processed junk foods, making it harder to get in enough calories. Using plenty of spices, sauces and condiments can help with this. The tastier your food is, the easier it is to eat a lot of it. Also, try to emphasize energy-dense foods as much as possible. These are foods that contain many calories relative to their weight. Here are some energy-dense foods that are perfect for gaining weight:

Many of these foods are very filling, and sometimes you may need to force yourself to keep eating even if you feel full. It may be a good idea not to eat a ton of vegetables if gaining weight is a priority for you. It simply leaves less room for energy-dense foods. Eating whole fruit is fine, but try to emphasize fruit that doesn’t require too much chewing, such as bananas.

Bottom Line: You can add sauces, spices and condiments to your foods to make it easier to eat more of them. Base your diet on energy-dense foods as much as possible.

Lift Heavy Weights and Improve Your Strength

In order to make sure that the excess calories go to your muscles instead of just your fat cells, then it is absolutely crucial to lift weights.

Go to a gym and lift, 2-4 times per week. Lift heavy, and try to increase the weights and volume over time. If you are completely out of shape or you are new to training, then consider hiring a qualified personal trainer to help you get started. You may also want to consult with a doctor if you have skeletal problems or any sort of medical issue. It is probably best to take it easy on the cardio for now. Focus mostly on the weights. Doing some cardio is fine to improve fitness and well-being, but don’t do so much that you end up burning all the additional calories you are eating.

Bottom Line: It is very important to lift heavy weights and improve your strength. This will help you gain muscle mass instead of just fat.

8 More Tips to Gain Weight

Combining a high calorie intake with heavy strength training are the two most important factors to gain weight. That being said, here are a few more tips to gain weight even faster:

  • Don’t drink water before meals. This can fill your stomach and make it harder to get in enough calories.
  • Eat more often. Squeeze in an additional meal or snack whenever you can, such as before bed.
  • Drink milk. Drinking whole milk to quench thirst is a simple way to get in more high-quality protein and calories.
  • Try weight gainer shakes. If you are really struggling then you can try weight gainer shakes. These are very high in protein, carbs and calories.
  • Use bigger plates. Definitely use large plates if you are trying to get in more calories, as smaller plates cause people to automatically eat less.
  • Add cream to your coffee. This is a simple way to add in more calories.
  • Take creatine. The muscle building supplement creatine monohydrate can help you gain a few pounds in muscle weight.
  • Get quality sleep. Sleeping properly is very important for muscle growth.

Bottom Line: There are several other things you can do to gain weight even faster. These include drinking milk, using weight gainer shakes, adding cream to your coffee and eating more often.

Gaining Weight Can be Difficult, and Consistency is The Key to Long-Term Success. It can actually be very difficult for some people to gain weight. That’s because your body has a certain setpoint of weight where it feels comfortable. Whether you try to go under your set point (lose weight) or over it (gain weight), your body resists changes by regulating your hunger levels and metabolic rate. When you eat more calories and gain weight, you can expect your body to respond by reducing your appetite and boosting your metabolism. This is largely mediated by the brain, as well as weight regulating hormones like leptin. So you should expect a certain level of difficulty. In some cases, you may literally need to force yourself to eat despite feeling stuffed. At the end of the day, changing your weight is a marathon, not a sprint. It can take a long time, and you need to be consistent if you want to succeed in the long run.

Read More

How Much Vitamin D Should You Take For Optimal Health?

Vitamin D is absolutely essential for good health. Also known as the sunshine vitamin, it is made in your skin when exposed to sunlight. In spite of that, vitamin D deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world. Up to 42% of the adult population in the US has low vitamin D levels, which can cause health problems. Vitamin D is particularly important for bone health and immune system function. This article discusses how much vitamin D you need.

What Is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that functions like a steroid hormone in the body. There are two forms of vitamin D in the diet:

  • Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol): found in some mushrooms.
  • Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol): found in oily fish, fish liver oil and egg yolks.

D3 is the more powerful of the two types, and raises blood levels of vitamin D almost twice as much as D2. Large amounts of vitamin D can also be made in your skin when it is exposed to UV-rays from sunlight. Any excess vitamin D is stored in your body fat for later use. Every cell in your body has a receptor for vitamin D. This vitamin is involved in many processes, including bone health, immune system function and protection against cancer.

Bottom line: Vitamin D functions like a steroid hormone in your body. There are two forms in the diet, D2 and D3. It can also be produced in your skin when exposed to sunlight.

How Common is Vitamin D Deficiency?

Vitamin D deficiency is a problem all over the world. However, it is especially common in young women, infants, the elderly and people who have dark skin. About 42% of the US population is vitamin D deficient. However, this rate rises to 82% in black people and 70% in Hispanics. If you have access to strong sun all year, then occasional sun exposure may be enough to fulfill your vitamin D requirements. However, if you live far north or south of the equator then your vitamin D levels may fluctuate depending on the season. The levels may go down during the winter months, due to a lack of sufficient sunlight. In that case, you need to rely on your diet (or supplements) for vitamin D, as well as on vitamin D that is stored in body fat during the summer.

In adults, a vitamin D deficiency may:

  • Cause muscle weakness.
  • Intensify bone loss.
  • Increase the risk of fractures.

In children, a severe vitamin D deficiency can cause delays in growth as well as rickets, a disease where the bones become soft. Furthermore, vitamin D deficiency has been linked with several cancers, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, high blood pressure and thyroid problems.

Bottom line: Vitamin D deficiency is very common worldwide, but occurs at higher rates in specific populations. A deficiency in vitamin D is linked to various health problems.

How Much Vitamin D Should You Take?

How much vitamin D you need depends on many factors. These include age, race, latitude, season, sun exposure, clothing and more.

Recommendations from the US Institute of Medicine suggest that an average daily intake of 400–800 IU, or 10–20 micrograms, is adequate for 97.5% of individuals. However, some studies have shown that the daily intake needs to be higher than that if you aren’t being exposed to sun. Depending on who you ask, blood levels above 20 ng/ml or 30 ng/ml are considered as “sufficient.” One study of healthy adults showed that a daily intake of 1120–1680 IU was needed to maintain sufficient blood levels. In the same study, individuals who were vitamin D deficient needed 5000 IU to reach blood levels above 30 ng/ml. Studies in postmenopausal women with vitamin D levels below 20 ng/ml found that ingesting 800–2000 IU raised blood levels above 20 ng/ml. However, higher doses were needed to reach 30 ng/ml. Overweight or obese individuals may also need higher amounts of vitamin D.

All things considered, a daily vitamin D intake of 1000–4000 IU, or 25–100 micrograms, should be enough to ensure optimal blood levels in most people. 4000 IU is the safe upper limit according to the Institute of Medicine (IOM). Make sure not to take more than that without consulting with a health professional.

Bottom line: Vitamin D intake is recommended at 400–800 IU/day, or 10–20 micrograms. However, some studies suggest that a higher daily intake of 1000–4000 IU (25–100 micrograms) is needed to maintain optimal blood levels.

What Are The Optimal Blood Levels of Vitamin D?

Blood levels of vitamin D are assessed by measuring 25(OH)D in the blood, which is the storage form of vitamin D in the body.

However, there has been some debate over the definition of optimal blood levels. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the Nordic Nutrition Council base their recommendations on the following blood levels:

  • Sufficient: 25(OH)D > 20 ng/ml (> 50 nmol/l).
  • Insufficient: 25(OH)D <20 ng/ml (<50 nmol/l).
  • Deficient: 25(OH)D < 12 ng/ml (< 25 nmol/l).

These organizations claim that blood levels of over 20 ng/ml meet the vitamin D requirements of more than 97.5% of the population. A committee at the IOM did not find higher blood levels to be associated with any additional health benefits. However, other experts, including the Endocrine Society, recommend aiming for higher blood levels that are closer to 30 ng/ml (75 nmol/l).

Bottom line: Vitamin D levels are generally considered sufficient when above 20 ng/ml (50 nmol/l). However, some experts claim that blood levels above 30 ng/ml (75 nmol/l) are optimal.

What Are The Main Sources of Vitamin D?

You can get vitamin D from:

  • Sun exposure.
  • Foods that contain vitamin D.
  • Supplements.

Vitamin D intake is generally quite low, since very few foods contain significant amounts. Foods that do contain vitamin D include fatty fish like salmon, as well as fish liver oils. Egg yolks also contain small amounts, and in some countries milk and cereals are enriched with vitamin D. However, supplements are available almost everywhere, and there is a good selection of vitamin D3 supplements on Amazon.

Bottom line: The main sources of vitamin D are sunshine, fatty fish, egg yolks, fish liver oils, fortified foods and supplements.

Can We Get Enough Vitamin D from the Sun Alone?

Summer sun exposure is the best way to get enough vitamin D. However, the amount of sunlight needed varies. Older individuals and dark-skinned people produce less vitamin D in the skin. Geographic location and season are very important, because vitamin D can’t be produced year round in countries that are far from the equator. Even though the sun may be shining, it is not necessarily strong enough to produce vitamin D. Here are a few facts about vitamin D production in the sun:

  • In the more than 70 countries that are positioned north of 35°N, no vitamin D is produced during the winter months.
  • Further north, in countries like Norway (69°N), no vitamin D is produced from October until March.
  • Factors such as clothing, weather, pollution, sunscreen use, weight and genetics may also affect the body’s ability to produce vitamin D.

In strong sun, exposing arms and legs for 5–30 minutes between 10 AM and 3 PM is usually enough to meet the daily requirements of most light-skinned people. People with darker skin may need a little more time. One study showed that extended sun exposure during summer was enough to ensure excellent vitamin D levels during winter, regardless of vitamin D intake. However, if you live far from the equator, you probably need to consume supplements or foods that contain vitamin D.

Bottom line: Vitamin D requirements can be met by sunshine alone during the summer. During the winter, and for those living far from the equator, supplements may be needed.

How Much Is Too Much?

Information about vitamin D overdose is outdated, and toxicity is extremely rare.

It is associated with dangerously high amounts of calcium and phosphates in the blood, along with low levels of parathyroid hormone. This is typically only seen in individuals who have accidentally or intentionally taken extremely high doses of vitamin D for long periods of time, such as 50,000–1 million IU/day for months. The upper level of harmless intake is set at 4000 IU, or 100 micrograms, per day. However, up to 10,000 IU per day has not been shown to cause harm to healthy individuals. That being said, very few people actually need more than 4000 IU a day.

A study of 17 thousand people taking varying doses of vitamin D, up to 20,000 IU/day, did not demonstrate any signs of toxicity. Their blood levels were still lower than the upper range of normal, which is 100 ng/ml, or 250 nmol/l. Also, it is not possible to overdose on vitamin D from sunlight. Keep in mind that although large doses are unlikely to cause harm or toxicity, they may be completely unnecessary.

Bottom line: The recommended upper intake level of vitamin D is 4000 IU/day. However, even higher dosages have been shown to be safe in some studies.

Take Home Message

Vitamin D is essential for bone health and many other aspects of health. A deficiency is incredibly common, and may have severe health consequences for many people. If you’re thinking about adding more vitamin D to your diet, consider the following factors:

  • If you live somewhere where there is sun year-round, then you may not need extra vitamin D as long as you make sure to get enough sun.
  • If you do not have access to the sun, then vitamin D3 supplements of 1000–4000 IU (25–100 micrograms) should be enough for most people.
  • The only way to know if you actually need to take a vitamin D supplement is to have your blood levels measured.

At the end of the day, vitamin D is highly important. Correcting a deficiency is simple, cheap and can have immense health benefits.

Read More

7 Nutrients That You Can’t Get From Plant Foods

Humans evolved eating both plant foods and animal foods. By completely eliminating either, we risk becoming deficient in key nutrients. This article lists 7 nutrients that you can not get from commonly consumed plant foods.

Vegetarians and vegans may need to supplement with some of them in order to maintain optimal health.

1. Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient found in virtually no plant foods. Also known as cobalamin, vitamin B12 is a water-soluble nutrient involved in the development of red blood cells, maintenance of nerves and normal brain function. Without supplements or enriched foods, vegetarians are at a high risk of vitamin B12 deficiency. It is mainly found in animal foods, such as fish, meat, dairy products and eggs. Lacto-ovo vegetarians can get adequate amounts of vitamin B12 from dairy products and eggs, but this is much more challenging for vegans. For this reason, vegans are at a higher risk of vitamin B12 deficiency than some vegetarians.

The signs, symptoms and risks associated with deficiency include:

  • Weakness, fatigue.
  • Impaired brain function.
  • A variety of neurological disorders.
  • Psychiatric disorders.
  • Neurological disorders in babies of breast-feeding mothers.
  • Megaloblastic anemia.
  • Possible links with Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Possible links with heart disease.

Vegans must get vitamin B12 by taking supplements or eating enriched food or certain types of seaweed. Many processed foods have been enriched with vitamin B12. These include enriched yeast extracts, soya products, breakfast cereals, bread and meat-substitutes. In addition, a few plant foods naturally contain small amounts of bioactive vitamin B12. These include:

Nori seaweed is considered the most suitable source of biologically available vitamin B12 for vegans. Keep in mind that raw or freeze-dried nori may be better than conventionally dried. It seems that some of the vitamin B12 is destroyed in the drying process. Another plant food often claimed to contain vitamin B12 is spirulina. However, spirulina contains so-called pseudovitamin B12, which is not biologically available. For this reason, it is not suitable as a source of vitamin B12.

Bottom Line: Vitamin B12 is only found in animal foods and certain types of seaweed. Vegans can get vitamin B12 by taking supplements, eating enriched foods or eating nori seaweed.

2. Creatine

Creatine is a molecule found in animal foods. Most of it is stored in muscles, but significant amounts are also concentrated in the brain. It functions as an easily-acessible energy reserve for muscle cells, giving them greater strength and endurance. For this reason, it is one of the world’s most popular supplements for muscle building. Studies have shown that creatine supplementation can increase both muscle mass and strength. Creatine is not essential in the diet, since it can be produced by the liver. However, vegetarians have lower amounts of creatine in their muscles. Placing people on a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet for 26 days causes a significant decrease in muscle creatine. Because creatine is not found in any plant foods, vegetarians and vegans can only get it from supplements. In vegetarians, creatine supplementation may have significant benefits. These include:

  • Improvements in physical performance.
  • Improvements in brain function.

Many of these effects are stronger in vegetarians than meat eaters. For example, vegetarians taking creatine supplements may experience significant improvements in brain function while meat eaters see no difference.

Bottom Line: Creatine is a bioactive compound that is lacking in vegetarian diets. It plays an important role in brain and muscle function.

3. Carnosine

Carnosine is an antioxidant that is concentrated in the muscles and brain.

It is very important for muscle function, and high levels of carnosine in muscles are linked with reduced muscle fatigue and improved performance. Carnosine is only found in animal foods. However, it is non-essential since it can be formed in the body from the amino acids histidine and beta-alanine. Dietary sources of beta-alanine, such as meat or fish, may also contribute significantly to muscle levels of carnosine. Vegetarians have less carnosine in their muscles than meat eaters. Supplementation with beta-alanine increases the levels of carnosine in muscles, improving endurance and increasing muscle mass. Vegan beta-alanine supplements are available online.

Bottom Line: Carnosine is a nutrient only found in animal foods. It is important for muscle function. Beta-alanine supplements are effective at increasing the levels of carnosine in muscles.

4. Cholecalciferol (Vitamin D3)

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that has many important functions. Deficiency in vitamin D is linked to increased risk of various adverse conditions. These include:

  • Osteoporosis, with increased risk of fractures in the elderly.
  • Cancer.
  • Heart disease.
  • Multiple sclerosis.
  • Depression.
  • Impaired brain function.
  • Muscle wasting and reduced strength, especially in elderly people.

Osteoporosis (weak bones) and rickets (bone malformation) are the best known effects of vitamin D deficiency. Whether vitamin D deficiency contributes to the other conditions, or is just associated with them, is less clear. Also called the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D doesn’t have to come from the diet. It can be produced by our own skin when it is exposed to sunlight. However, when sunlight exposure is limited, we have to get it from food (or supplements). There are two types of vitamin D in the diet, ergocalciferol (D2) found in plants, and cholecalciferol (D3) found in animal foods. Of the two types of vitamin D, cholecalciferol (from animals) is much more potent than ergocalciferol. In other words, it increases blood levels of bioactive vitamin D much more efficiently. The best sources of cholecalciferol are fatty fish and egg yolks. Other sources include supplements, cod liver oil, or enriched foods such as milk or cereals.

Bottom Line: Cholecalciferol (D3) is a type of vitamin D found in animal foods, especially fatty fish. It is much more effective than the plant form of vitamin D, ergocalciferol (D2).

5. Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an essential omega-3 fatty acid. It is important for normal brain development and function. Deficiency in DHA can have adverse effects on mental health and brain function, especially in children. In addition, inadequate DHA intake in pregnant women may adversely affect brain development in the child. It is mainly found in fatty fish and fish oil, but also in some types of microalgae. In the body, DHA can also be made from the omega-3 fatty acid ALA, which is found in high amounts in flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts. However, the conversion of ALA to DHA is inefficient. For this reason, vegetarians and vegans are often lower in DHA than meat eaters. Vegans can get this important fatty acid by taking supplements (algal oil) made from certain microalgae.

Bottom Line: Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an essential omega-3 fatty acid found in fatty fish and fish oil. It is also found in microalgae, which are a suitable dietary source for vegetarians.

6. Heme-iron

Heme-iron is a type of iron only found in meat, especially red meat.

It is much better absorbed than non-heme iron found in plant foods. Not only is heme-iron well absorbed, it also improves the absorption of non-heme iron from plant foods. This phenomenon is not entirely understood and is called the “meat factor.” Unlike non-heme iron, heme-iron is not affected by antinutrients, such as phytic acid, often found in plant foods. For this reason, vegetarians and vegans are more prone to anemia than meat eaters, especially women and people on macrobiotic diets.

Bottom Line: Meat, especially red meat, contains a type of iron called heme-iron, which is much better absorbed than non-heme iron from plant foods.

7. Taurine

Taurine is a sulfur compound found in various body tissues, including the brain, heart and kidneys. The function of taurine in the body is not entirely clear. However, it appears that it may play a role in muscle function, bile salt formation and the body’s antioxidant defenses. Supplementation with taurine may have various benefits for heart health such as lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. Taurine is only found in animal foods such as fish, seafood, meat, poultry and dairy products. It is not essential in the diet since small amounts are produced by the body. However, dietary taurine may play a major role in the maintenance of taurine levels in the body. Levels of taurine are significantly lower in vegans than in meat eaters.

Bottom Line: Taurine is a sulfur compound that has many important functions in the body. It is only found in animal foods.

Take Home Message

Vegetarian and vegan diets may be very healthy for some people. However, there are a few important nutrients that are impossible to get from commonly consumed plant foods. If you plan to completely eliminate animal foods, then be extra prudent about your diet and make sure you are getting everything your body needs.

Read More