A Mother’s Diet Can Affect Her Baby for Life

Pregnant Woman Holding Baby JumperMost expectant mothers are aware of how important it is to eat healthy during their pregnancy. But, do you realize how critical getting enough vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients is for the healthy development of a fetus?

A nutrient-poor diet won’t just affect fetal development; it could set your child up for a lifetime of future health issues.

Diet Affects Your Baby from Conception

According to this 2014 London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine study nutritional deficiencies, even at the time of conception, can permanently alter your baby’s genes. The report, published in Nature Communications, is the first that finds an environmental factor in the earliest days of fetal development can cause long-term alterations in DNA.

This doesn’t mean that the genetic code itself was changed. What the researchers discovered was that diet had an effect on whether the six particular genes they studied were turned on or off – in the earliest stages of fetal development.

B Vitamins can be Critical to Baby’s Development

A unique chemical tag that influences whether a gene is activated or not is called methylation. The amount of methylation observed in each of the six genes they looked at depended on just a few B vitamins and the nutrients that accompany them.

The scientists couldn’t figure out precisely which B vitamins and other nutrients had the most significant effect, but, when the mother’s blood had low levels of vitamin B2 and several other nutrients, the genes they examined had less methylation.

According to Andrew Prentice, a nutritionist who contributed to this study, the vitamin levels in the women who participated in the study weren’t exceptionally low. If a doctor examined the test-subject’s blood samples, he would say that the vitamin levels were normal.

Besides vitamin B levels, they also discovered that a mother’s body mass index (BMI) also influences how genes are expressed. The fatter you are, the less methylation of the baby’s genes. Same as with vitamin B, none of the mothers in the study were overweight – but women with a higher BMI had babies with less methylation of their genes.

What Type of Food and How Much of it

During pregnancy, what type of food and how much of it is crucially important for the healthy development and overall health of your baby.

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommendations are that a pregnant woman should eat between 2200 and 2900 calories per day, on average. They should also only gradually increase calorie intake as the pregnancy progresses.

A study in the May 2010 Biology of Reproduction lists the negative impact poor nutrition can have on fetal development and health. The conclusion is that undernourishment during pregnancy will slow the baby’s growth and can result in an underweight child at birth. Low birth weight babies can have an increased chance of developing health issues later in life, like:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Neurological problems

However, it still isn’t clear why poor nutrition before birth and a low birth weight increases the odds of experiencing these problems later on.

The Balance of Dietary Nutrients

Pregnant Woman holding a dollMaintaining a healthy balance of dietary nutrients is also critical to the healthy development of your baby. According to the Mayo Clinic, a pregnant woman should eat at least 71 grams of protein. Lisa S. Brown, PhD, RD recommends around 175 grams of carbohydrate and 13 grams of healthy fats like plant-based oils and moderate quantities of other fats.

According to a 2015 animal study in the NIH journal, Nutrients, researchers found that low protein intake during pregnancy will adversely affect the baby’s birth weight, blood pressure, brain weight, and metabolism compared to normally fed test-animals.

Vitamins and Minerals During Pregnancy

Getting the right number of vitamins and minerals during pregnancy is essential to ensure your baby’s health and development.

Although research has failed to associate a deficiency in any particular vitamin with fetal health issues in human beings, animal studies have suggested that vitamin deficiency can have serious implications for the baby’s long-term health.

  • A vitamin C deficiency may result in abnormal heart development
  • Low vitamin A levels could slow the rate that cells divide, interfering with heart, lung and liver development
  • A deficiency in vitamin D may slow growth and the healthy development of bones
  • Low vitamin K intake could impact the development of the face and teeth

While a growing fetus needs all the B vitamins; folate is essential. Folate deficiency is associated with spina bifida, which causes abnormal development of the fetal spinal cord and vertebral column. Minerals like calcium, zinc, iron, and iodine are also essential for the fetus (and mother), to ensure a healthy pregnancy and prevent premature birth and low birth weight.

Mother’s Diet During Pregnancy Influences Baby’s Food Preferences

There are studies that suggest a more mature fetus is capable of experiencing tastes and smells in the womb. At seven months, a fetus’s taste buds are fully formed, and even the baby’s sense of smell appears to be functional.

Food flavors experienced by the mother will find their way into the amniotic fluid that’s continually swallowed by the fetus. A 2000 experiment appears to confirm that babies can remember and prefer the taste of foods the mother ate during pregnancy after they’re born.

What You Can Do

Father Kissing Prego BellyBacteria can have a devastating impact on you and your baby’s health. You must protect yourself and the baby from harmful bacteria like salmonella, E. coli, and listeria. Any one of these bacteria can potentially cause miscarriage or preterm delivery. Pregnant women should avoid soft cheeses containing unpasteurized milk, raw or undercooked poultry, meats, eggs, and seafood. Other precautions include keeping your refrigerator below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and throwing away leftovers that have been at room temperature for more than two hours.

Get more calcium. Try to get at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day; the baby needs it for proper bone and tooth development during the second and third trimesters. Also, without enough calcium in the diet, your baby will begin to absorb it from your bones; increasing the risk of osteoporosis later in life.

Increase your iron intake. Your iron requirement almost doubles during pregnancy. Expectant mothers should get around 30 milligrams of iron every day. This will support the typical 50 percent increase in blood volume during pregnancy and will promote fetal iron storage. Iron is how the body transports oxygen, and the fetus will benefit from the healthy supply sufficient iron levels will bring.

DHA is an essential omega-3 fatty acid found in the brain and eyes. Consuming enough of this nutrient (found in seafood and flaxseed) is critical to ensure you and your growing baby’s health. DHA can boost the fetus’s brain development before birth, and ensure

  • Better vision
  • Memory
  • Motor skills
  • Language development during early childhood

Try to eat at least 12 ounces of seafood per week or use a DHA supplement from a reputable vitamin company to reap the health benefits of this essential fatty acid. Remember eat well for your life and your coming child.

Cheese… A Superfood?

10 Fantastic Benefits of Eating Cheese

Cheese Assortment and WineIt’s a guilty pleasure for a lot of us – a delicious, creamy, savory cheese. This wonderfully flavored dairy product has been accused of causing a plethora of horrible health issues; from heart disease and stroke to obesity.

But, is cheese really bad for you?

Let’s take a look at ten fantastic health benefits of cheese so you can guiltlessly enjoy this holiday and party staple.

  1. Eating Cheese May Reduce Your Risk of Heart Attack
  2. To discover more regarding how cheese consumption over a long period (years) affects someone’s risk for heart disease, researchers from the Netherlands and China analyzed information from 15 observational research studies that included over 200,000 people. All the studies (except one) excluded individuals that had an existing heart condition, and all the studies (except two) tracked individuals for 10 or more years.

    What these researchers discovered is that people who ate high relatively large quantities of cheese had a 14% lower risk of developing heart disease and were also 10% less likely to experience a stroke than people who never or only rarely ate cheese.

  3. Cheese is high in Protein and B Vitamins
  4. Cheese typically has just about as much protein per serving as it does fat. It’s this protein that the body uses to maintain and build cell structures and also signals the body to feel full after a meal. Cheese also provides lots of bone-healthy calcium; cheddar cheese has 200 mg per ounce or almost 20 percent of an individual’s recommended daily intake. It’s also one of the few foods that naturally contain vitamin D. Cheese also provides a significant amount vitamin B12 which helps red blood cell formation and healthy neurological function.

  5. Cheese is Probiotic
  6. Cheese is a fermented food, meaning it contains certain bacteria that are beneficial to our digestive health. Some evidence even suggests that eating cheese will favorably change the microbiota (concentration of bacteria in the gut), acting as a probiotic that may improve the metabolism.

  7. Cheese May Prevent Liver Cancer
  8. Cheese BruschettaIncluding cheese in your diet could stop you from getting liver cancer and even boost liver health. This is according to a recent study from Texas A&M University. The researchers even discovered that aged cheeses like brie and cheddar might potentially boost your life expectancy by as much as 25 percent.

    This could be because aged cheeses contain spermidine, a compound called thought to prevent both liver fibrosis and hepatocellular carcinoma; the most common type of liver cancer.

  9. Cheese May Boost the Immune System
  10. Finnish researchers from the University of Turku found that eating probiotic cheese can prevent the age-related deterioration of the human immune system.

    The scientists asked test-subjects who ranged between 72 and 103 years old, to consume one slice of either a probiotic Gouda cheese or a placebo with breakfast for one month. At the end of the 4-week study period, they discovered that the seniors who ate probiotic cheese instead of the placebo demonstrated a significant strengthening of their immune systems.

  11. It Can Prevent Tooth Decay
  12. A study conducted in 2013 by researchers at the Academy of General Dentistry, concludes that cheese consumption will not only make the mouth more alkaline (and more unfriendly to cavity-causing bacteria) but can also create a protective film on the tooth surface – acting as a barrier to decay.

    The researchers divided 68 children into three separate groups. One group was required to consume a portion of cheese every day, another group ate sugar-free yogurt, and the third group drank a daily glass of milk.

    pH levels were measured both before and after testing (the higher a pH level is above 5.5, the lower the chances of getting cavities) and researchers found that the children who ate cheese demonstrated a rapid rise in pH level while the groups that ate the yogurt or drank milk showed no change at all.

  13. Cheese May Reduce the Risk of Becoming Type II Diabetic
  14. Cheese contains butyrate, and the digestive system needs butyrate to work correctly. Butyrate helps your body maintain the healthy growth of cells that line the gut, making sure that there’s a proper balance between the old cells dying off and the formation of new cells. Butyrate is also the most vital source of energy for these cells.

    A study published in the journal Diabetes concluded that mice that ate feed with added butyrate demonstrated insulin levels that were 50 percent lower than mice that ate regular mouse chow. The researchers theorize that butyrate can help our bodies to more efficiently use insulin and maintain optimal blood-sugar levels.

  15. Cheese Won’t Raise Your Blood Pressure
  16. Assorted Cheeses and Green SalsaIt turns out that cheese’s high sodium content may not be a problem after all. Even though cheese is a high-sodium food, it wasn’t linked to high blood pressure in an analysis of several previous studies.

    The scientists still haven’t figured out exactly why this is the case. But, they think that it may be due to the ingredients in cheese acting synergistically. It looks like the various components and elements in cheese consumed together have much higher importance than either the saturated fat or the sodium. According to the study, calcium also seems to play a protective role by binding with some of the fatty acids in cheese making them indigestible.

  17. You Can Eat Cheese Even if you’re Lactose Intolerant
  18. It doesn’t matter if lactose makes your stomach turn, you can still enjoy certain types of cheese. There are many kinds of cheese that will spare the stomachs of dairy sensitive people, including:

    • Parmesan
    • Cheddar
    • Gouda
    • Swiss
    • Mozzarella
    • Brie

    When these cheeses are made, the production and aging processes eliminate virtually all of the lactose. While a glass of milk will contain about 12 grams of lactose – one ounce of any of these cheeses will provide just less than one gram of this (sometimes hard to digest) milk sugar.

  19. It Tastes Great
  20. Everyone has a favorite cheese; it could be mozzarella melted on a pizza, a slice of Swiss on your burger or a generous slice of Brie – cheese provides a satisfying addition to our diets.

Enjoy the holidays and don’t be afraid to attack the cheeses offered with your meal. It’s healthy, tasty, and can even fill you up quicker, so you don’t over-indulge on sugar-filled treats later.

Convenience Store Drink Options Are Killing You!

Buying Beverages from a Convenience Store? You Might Want to Rethink That Strategy

Sugary Drink Choices
They’re named convenience stores for a reason. They’re everywhere, are typically open 24/7 and the classic small footprint makes them perfect for quick grab-and-go purchases.

What do consumers typically buy in convenience stores? According to the National Association of Convenience Stores, prepared food and cold beverages are driving the sector’s growth. That may be a good thing for the industry, but it’s not good for your health.

Aside from beer or other adult options (depending on where the c-store is located), the coolers likely present a bevy of soft drinks, from sodas and tea to juices and sports waters. Most people looking for healthier hydration know to stay away from the sodas, which are packed full of sugar and artificial flavors, but “healthy” energy drinks and fruit-flavored juices may attract you. Many of these beverages are made with fruits, lending to a healthier-looking label. In fact, many consumers do believe that skipping the soda for other sweetened beverages is a “healthy” option.

With so many bad-for-you things packed into the bottles, why do C-store coolers still offer so many unhealthy choices (and typically not nearly enough healthy ones?) Partly because beverage companies and distributers are still following traditional – and misguided – philosophies.

  1. Beverage companies use focus groups “average” Americans to determine product pushes.
  2. While focus groups are one way to get market information, they may not always be reliable. Focus group data is more difficult to control than other marketing data, and the interaction between people within the group can lead to skewed data. Beverage companies rely heavily on focus groups, though, attempting to gather what they consider “average” Americans to vet new product ideas or marketing campaigns. While surveys, interviews and other marketing tools may be deployed, it’s often the focus through that is the true focal point for decision making.

    The problem is that focus groups can’t possibly account statistically for the largest swaths of customers. Different groups, with differing lifestyles, needs and desires, are not fully accounted for, which is partly why c-stores don’t offer the widest selection of beverages.

    Focus groups may also be partly to blame for advertising and packaging that gives the impression that these drinks are healthy. While Americans are becoming more aware of labels, food and drink ingredients are still confusing to most. In a focus group, the wow factor of a marketing campaign is likely to make waves, despite what the reality behind it really is.

  3. Beverage companies believe sweetness ensures more people buy the products.
  4. And they are right: companies don’t stock things people don’t sell. More sweetened beverages are in C-store refrigerators because people are buying them. Why? First, because beverage companies are very adept at marketing. Second, because the average American has developed a taste for sweet beverages, and sugar can be addicting.

    Beverage company success in promoting these products prompt them to produce more. A growing desire for “healthier” options means that companies make drinks with less additives or other unhealthy ingredients, but the fact that sugary drinks sell faster in convenience stores than their unsweetened brethren means even healthy options have more than their fair share of sweetener.

    Soda turning to sugarThose buying these unhealthy drinks may not be aware of the consequences of consuming sweetened beverages and how it will affect them in the long run. Instead of investing development into unsweetened drinks and credible marketing, companies rely on sugar to push the bottles.

    And while it’s true that America’s sweet tooth is strong, it’s not just sugar doing the talking. Brands throw a lot of marketing muscle behind these drinks, so what if they did the same for actually healthier options? With consumers growing more health conscious, awareness campaigns informing the public about the risks involved in consuming more sweetened drinks and offering healthier options could change the tide in convenience stores (it’s already happening in grocery stores).

  5. Beverage companies produce overly sweet beverages full of chemicals that are counterproductive to good health on many levels
  6. Just because chemicals are considered safe doesn’t mean they’re healthy. Almost all beverages contain preservatives, which may not be unhealthy (they’re safe according to the FDA), but these drinks often contain zero nutrients. You may notice that some fruit juices have a shelf life of about a year, and that means a lot of preservatives were added to that drink. They might be safe, but do you really want to stuff your body with zero nutrient preservatives?

    Some of these chemicals include benzoic acid, which is useful in killing bacteria. This preservative, commonly used in food and drinks, is safe in small quantities. However, it may pose a risk in some instances. It becomes harmful when benzoates, which are derived from benzoic acid, react to certain chemicals like Vitamin C. Benzene, a carcinogen, may likely be produced. And you know how harmful this substance is. It promotes the formation of cancer, which is one of the leading causes of death in modern society. When you continuously consume sweetened beverages, you may be at risk for cancer.

    The FDA did say that the levels of benzene found in fruit drinks and other beverages shouldn’t worry consumers. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, though, and benzene isn’t the only chemical you’ll find in the convenience store cooler. Diet sodas are sweetened with chemicals known to cause health issues, including digestive distress, but the zero-calorie sweetness and carefully couched marketing keeps people coming back for more.

  7. Beverage companies put out low sugar products that people would be content to consume once per day for fear of disrupting their more addictive options.
  8. When Venezuela experienced a sugar shortage, Coca-Cola stopped production of its main product (which relied heavily on sugar). The brand also tried to expand while working to reduce the sugar content of their drinks. They distributed Diet Coke, Coke Zero and Coke Life, all which use no or little sugar. However, their sales dropped. Most people still preferred the addictive power of sugar.

    To a beverage company, sugar is a commodity. This ingredient, when mixed with others, can be powerfully addictive. Without it, brands know they won’t get as large a market share, and that’s especially true in a convenience store cooler, where low-sugar brands stand beside sweeter options. This is one reason beverage companies resort to producing more of these products.

    You might say, “that’s a culture problem, and brands are only supplying people what they want.” In some respects, this is true. It’s not 100 percent a beverage company’s responsibility to fix American eating and drinking habits. At the same time, knowing sweet drinks are addictive, brands are less likely to push a beverage that is going to be harder for consumers to refuse. A less sweet drink might be something you’d consume once a day, whereas a sugar-filled drink addition means two, three or even more servings a day for many people. That’s exponentially more sales for the brand.

  9. Beverage companies are willing to put heart-stopping levels of caffeine into energy drinks and other products.
  10. Caffeine, when taken in moderation, is good for you. Some of its benefits include:

    • Alertness
    • Helps you focus
    • Boosts your mood

    But caffeine is a stimulant, which is considered a drug by the FDA. When you consume drinks high in caffeine, you can become addicted to it. You may experience withdrawal symptoms when you suddenly stop. You may feel irritable, tired and not being able to concentrate. Getting headaches is also one of the symptoms.

    Most consumers aren’t aware that beverages in C-store drink refrigerators have high caffeine content. Beverage companies will tell you they use it only to enhance the flavor. But you know that’s not true. They sell caffeinated drinks because that’s what people want once they get addicted to it. When you buy more, they get a profit.

Rethink Your Drink

The key to good health is awareness. The next time you’re buying drinks, read the label. Check the ingredients and the number of calories per serving. If it’s more than your body needs, think again. Prioritize your health over your cravings if you want to live a healthy lifestyle.

If you really need to have a drink, consider those that promote good health like herbal tea. And water is always the best choice for hydration, purifying your body and boosting many organ functions. You may even find it in c-store refrigerators if you look past all the colorful sugary options.

Getting Essential Vitamin D in Winter Time

Man Tanning
Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin, and its essential to maintaining optimal health and a robust immune system. The main source of this critical nutrient is the sun. During hard Northeastern winters, it can be almost impossible to get all the vitamin D we need. Now I am not saying you need to dress for your next mountain adventure quite as risque as the woman in the image but…

Researchers have found that having a vitamin D deficiency can lead to a broad range of (sometimes severe) health problems and also contribute to chronic disorders, which include:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Depression
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension

If you want to maintain healthy levels of Vitamin D, especially if you’re living through a brutal Northeast Winter, or any snowy climate, keep reading to learn about the different ways you can get the vitamin D you need.

The Dangers of Vitamin D Deficiency

According to the journal Nutrition Research, approximately 42 percent of US adults are vitamin D deficient. That’s bad news for health. A variety of health risks are associated with Vitamin D deficiency. Worse, if you’re diagnosed with a serious health issue like breast or prostate cancer, the chances of survival could be much lower than for someone who has normal levels.

According to study author, Kimberly Y.Z. Forrest, there are specific factors which increase your risk of being vitamin D deficient, “Being from a non-white race, not college educated, obese, having low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, poor health, and no daily milk consumption were all significantly, independently associated with vitamin D deficiency.”

Too Little Vitamin D Can Make You S.A.D

Vitamin D deficiency can significantly increase the chances of experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also called winter depression.

This is a mental condition which can cause people to experience a depressed mood during the winter season. SAD is still a mystery to many healthcare professionals, and there are different schools of thought regarding its cause, but most will agree that it could be at least partly related to a combination of light sensitivity, brain chemistry, and Vitamin D deficiency.

The symptoms of SAD can appear like those of major depressive disorder and may include:

  • Decreased energy
  • Increased appetite
  • Increased desire for sleep
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Carbohydrate cravings
  • Irritability
  • Weight gain

A reason why Vitamin D deficiency could cause SAD is that it naturally boosts serotonin, the brain chemical responsible for processes like digestion, mood, sleep, and hunger. When humans experience a drop in serotonin levels, our mood drops, and we may experience cravings as a way to increase those levels. Carbs, as well as nicotine or caffeine, will briefly increase serotonin levels to improve our mood temporarily. Unfortunately, we eventually get desensitized to all this excess serotonin, which can cause cravings to intensify.
Besides excess abdominal fat, other signs of Vitamin D deficiency may include depression, persistent musculoskeletal pain, frequent chest colds, inflammatory diseases, and even some autoimmune diseases.

How Does the Body get vitamin D from the Sun?

The body synthesizes large amounts of cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) when skin is exposed to sunlight. The minimum time needed to make vitamin D depends on the skin color of each person. Individuals with very light skin may need only 10 minutes in the sun to stimulate the body to produce vitamin D. Those with very dark skin could require up to 30 minutes or longer to make a significant amount of vitamin D.

But, on average a person will need about 15-20 minutes of sun on face arms and legs about three times a week for the body to produce enough vitamin D. Of course, the more skin that’s exposed, the more vitamin D you’ll make. You don’t need to risk sunburn or even get a tan to get the vitamin D you need.

A crucial factor that affects the amount of vitamin D you make is the time of day. The optimum time of day to be in the sun for the skin to make the most vitamin D is about noon when the sun’s rays strike the ground most directly.

Does Summertime Vitamin D Last through the Winter?

Yes, it’s possible for the vitamin D your body makes from sun exposure to meet most of your needs all winter long. But, possibly doesn’t mean it will.

For this to help you, you need first to get enough vitamin D during the warm weather months. Unfortunately, many of us just can’t. Most Americans are vitamin D deficient even in the summer months for a variety of reasons:

  • Working all day at indoor jobs
  • Slathering on extremely high SPF sunscreen anytime they go out
  • Actively avoiding the sun from fear of skin damage

So, the majority of us get nowhere near the amount of vitamin D we need in the summer, and yet we depend on this hypothetical vitamin D surplus to keep us healthy all winter.

If you live around the northern circle of latitude that’s 37 degrees above of Earth’s equator, the sun’s rays just don’t hit your location at the optimal angle to get vitamin D producing rays on your skin during fall and winter, making vitamin D production from the sun impossible. Visualize a line across the US from Northern California to Pennsylvania; anyone living over this line had better look for alternative sources of Vitamin D from November through March.

The bottom line is: If you’re well-tanned from the sun at the beginning of winter from lots of daily sun exposure over the summer, then you may indeed have enough vitamin D stored to make it through to spring. If not, then its likely that you’ll need to find another way.

If You Think You’re Vitamin D Deficient, Consider Getting Tested

If you suspect that you’re vitamin D deficient, consider having your blood levels checked by your doctor. Recent studies indicate that it’s best to maintain your vitamin D levels above 30 nanograms/milliliter. Someone who has levels below this amount may need to consume a higher dose vitamin supplement but only do so on the advice of your doctor.

Now That You Know Here is How to Eliminate it or Avoid It Altogether

Although it sounds challenging to be able to do it’s not that hard. The key is to get outside during the winter and allow some sunlight on your skin. This doesn’t mean that you have to join a polar bear club and go skinny dipping in a frozen lake every Winter. What it does mean is that you should take advantage of that Sunny Winter day and take your hat and hood off if it’s warm enough and let that sunshine in. Having a Winter sport that you are passionate about really helps.
Even Indoor tanning is better than nothing and will produce Vitamin D for you.

Ways to Get Vitamin D without the Sun

Eat healthy, vitamin D rich foods like these every day:

  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Mackerel
  • Mushrooms
  • Eggs
  • Cheese

Other good sources are, vitamin D fortified milk, yogurt, and vitamin-fortified orange juice.

Of course, the quickest and easiest way is to take a vitamin D supplement year-round. It’s best to ask a doctor regarding the most effective amount to take. Although, for people with healthy vitamin D levels, 1,000 to 2,000 International Units (IU) of vitamin D every day will help maintain optimal levels.

Use your newfound awareness of Vitamin D and how your body creates and uses it to help you feel healthy and happy this Winter.

Why is Fiber Good for You?

Why is fiber good for youWe’ve been hearing about for years now; to stay healthy you need to eat more fiber. According to the current US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines, Americans should be eating about 20 to 30 grams of fiber per day, yet most adults won’t even eat half that amount.

Research has shown that eating fiber offers many incredible health benefits, like:

  • Healthier skin: Fiber, especially psyllium husk, can help take fungus and yeast out of the body which could prevent them from being excreted through your skin where they may trigger rashes and acne
  • Digestive health: Dietary fiber may reduce (by up to 40 percent) the risk of developing diverticulitis; the inflammation of polyps in the intestines
  • Keep blood sugar stable: Consuming soluble fiber could help slow the rate that your body breaks down carbohydrates and absorbs sugar, which helps stabilize blood sugar levels
  • Weight control: Supplementing the diet with fiber has been shown to help obese people lose weight (possibly because fiber helps you feel fuller)
  • Prevent colon cancer: Because fiber helps to move waste through the digestive tract, it may help to prevent colon cancer because it keeps the intestines clean and prevent food waste from staying inside long enough to cause problems

While the list of benefits is impressive — most of us still don’t know why fiber is so good for our health. We’re going to fix that by taking a look at what fiber is, where it’s found, and how recent research has uncovered the incredible reasons why eating fiber is so good for you.

What is Fiber?

When food is digested, your body strips out only the nutrients it requires, and dietary fiber is what’s left over.

Dietary fiber comes in two forms: insoluble and soluble.

Insoluble fiber (the fiber that doesn’t dissolve in water) is what bulks up the food as it moves through our digestive system; it also speeds up the rate that it moves through the body. This is essential for individuals who suffer from a slow digestion or are frequently constipated. Insoluble fiber can be found in foods like leafy green veggies, whole-grains, green beans and all kinds of potatoes.

Soluble fiber, which does dissolves in the water in our digestive systems, forms a kind of gel. Unlike insoluble fiber, it slows down the passage of food through the digestive tract so your body can more effectively absorb nutrients. You can get soluble fiber from foods like oats, oat bran, Brussels sprouts, and barley contain lots of soluble fiber. Keep in mind that many fiber-rich foods will contain both types of fiber.

How Fiber is broken down in the Body

What does fiber do in the bodyWhile the human digestive system lacks the necessary enzymes to break down the fiber we eat — that’s not the whole story.

While dietary fiber is indigestible to for humans, our digestive tract is protected by a layer of mucus which hosts a population of hundreds of species of different bacteria. Many of these bacteria do produce the enzymes needed to digest the fiber we eat.

This ability thrive on the fiber humans can’t digest has led researchers to investigate if it’s these microbes that create the health benefits of a fiber-rich diet. Recently published studies in the journal Cell Host and Microbe conclude that those bacteria really are the reason why fiber benefits our health so much.

What Researchers Found Out

Researchers discovered that when mice were placed on a low-fiber/high-fat diet, the population of healthy (probiotic) gut bacteria was drastically reduced.

Another study tried a similar experiment; they evaluated the gut bacteria in mice as they were switched to a low-fiber diet rich in fat and sugar, with only about 20 percent of calories from protein.

The scientists focused on how diverse the bacteria population was in the mouse’s gut, rather than the number of bacteria, like the first study. When the mice were switched to a low-fiber diet, they found that many common bacteria became rare, and formerly rare (and not necessarily healthy) types of bacteria became much more common.

The researchers in both studies also saw the gut health of the mice quickly decline. The animal’s intestines shrank, and the mucus layer became thinner. This brought the bacteria layer closer to the intestinal wall, which began triggering the immune system.

The mice in both studies also experienced chronic gut inflammation followed by weight gain and higher blood sugar levels after a few weeks on the low-fiber/high-fat diet.

What Happened When Fiber was returned to the Diet?

Both teams of researchers also gave another group of mice a high-fat diet along with a moderate amount of a dietary fiber called inulin. This maintained a healthy digestive tract mucus layer compared to the mice that didn’t get any fiber; and this kept the gut bacteria at a safer distance from the intestinal wall.

Mice that received a much higher dose of inulin showed even more impressive results:

Also, while eating a high-fat diet, the mice getting a big dose of inulin had healthy populations of bacteria in their intestines, their gut health was more normal, and they even gained less weight.

Then Some Mice were given a Probiotic Bacteria

Finally, researchers tried adding fiber-feeding bacteria to water that the mice on a high-fat diet drank. This addition improved their health even more. Although they still ate a high-fat diet, the mucus layer in their guts was thicker, which maintained a strong barrier to prevent bacteria from leaking through their intestinal walls.

How to get more Fiber in Your Diet

how to get more fiber in your dietGetting healthy fiber into your diet is simple. Begin by lowering the amount of fat, refined foods, and meats that you eat. Try switching them for high-fiber food items. Include lots of high-fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, and seeds.

How could you get up to 37 grams of fiber Every Day?

Now that you know how important it is to eat the recommended daily intake of fiber, here is a sample menu to show you how easy it is to include the fiber you need for optimal health in your diet:

Breakfast: about one cup of bran flakes (5g) and half of a banana (1.5 grams)
Snack: A cup of raspberries (8g)
Lunch: A cup of black bean soup (about 8g)
Dinner: One cup of lentils, split peas or black beans (about 15g)

You don’t need to stop eating any foods to have a high-fiber diet; you just need to learn how to include some new, fiber-rich food into your diet. Considering all the health benefits you’ll enjoy, and the bonus of possibly losing some weight, why wouldn’t you?

11 Holiday Health Tips

Holiday stress tipsThe holiday season between November and December means that the average American will gain between five and ten pounds of weight. When you include the effects of increased alcohol consumption, skipped workouts so you can make time for shopping and visiting family – the holidays can be a challenge to anyone’s health.

But, there are ways to avoid the worst of it.

The holidays aren’t the time to lose weight, but it doesn’t have to be an excuse to ruin your health. The trick is to go into this time of year with a plan. Here are eleven ways to maintain your health through the unavoidable get-togethers, parties, and family functions.

#1 Don’t Get Sick

Winter is cold and flu season. Avoid infection by regularly washing your hands and urging others you work or live with to do the same. Keep warm by layering clothes so you can quickly take a layer off when indoors to avoid over-heating. Use salt or grit liberally on any icy patches. Keep a close eye on little ones and the elderly, who are at higher risk of falls during this time.

#2 Avoid Excess Stress

The holiday months are a necessarily stressful time. You’re managing work responsibilities along with added commitments to friends and family. The stress of paying for gifts and emotional strain of dealing with difficult family members can be overwhelming. Anticipate these sources of stress and prepare for them. This could mean committing to fewer social gatherings or sticking to a strict budget.

#3 Don’t Think that this is the Most Depressing time of Year

Holiday Depression is fakeYour mental outlook has a strong influence on your health. Keep a positive attitude, and many potential crises will turn out to be only inconveniences. In fact, depression isn’t more common during the holidays, and suicide rates in the United States are lowest in December. Enjoy the season, but don’t over-think things like party invitations, absent loved ones, and unexpected problems.

#4 Take Your Vitamins

While it’s not exactly a happy pill, some supplements may elevate your mood. Some studies show that consuming omega-3 fatty acids could help relieve depression; other research has concluded that increased vitamin D intake may improve mood. Consider adding a daily omega-3 or vitamin D supplement to your diet. You can also just increase your intake of foods rich in omega-3s, such as fish, flaxseed, and walnuts and drinking more vitamin D fortified milk.

#5 Don’t Obsess over Social Media

This is the time of year when people are posting to social media to show off the trips, gifts, and holiday bonuses they’re enjoying. Take it all with a grain of salt – much posted to social media is exaggerated or utterly false. Even when someone’s impressive holiday posts are true; remember that you’re not the only one who didn’t spend New Year’s Eve in Bali.

#6 Try to Catch-up during Weekends

There is a lot going on, and it can be difficult to catch up on sleep and household chores. Use your days off to try and catch up on all of it. With a little planning in advance, you should be able to schedule eight hours of sleep, putting the house in order, shopping, and anything else that has to be done. The most important thing is to get some quality sack time – sleep deprivation could cause all sorts of health problems, and chronic sleep deprivation has been identified as a risk factor for diabetes and weight gain.

#7 Moderate Your Alcohol Consumption

Moderate alcohol consumptionDrinking too much could result in a severe hangover, but that isn’t all you need to worry about. This is the time of year that doctors also report observing a significant spike in erratic heartbeats also called holiday heart syndrome. It’s more prevalent in people who aren’t usually heavy drinkers but drink a lot for a short time. Doctors believe that past a certain amount, alcohol could be toxic enough to cardiac cells that it disrupts the normal heart rate.

Try these ways to keep holiday drinks from impacting your health:

  • Put ice in your drinks. The ice will melt, dilute the strength of the drink and reduce your alcohol (and calorie) intake
  • Stop drinking at least a couple of hours before going to sleep. Metabolizing alcohol will disrupt sleep patterns, cause you to wake frequently, and keeps you from getting the full restorative benefits of sleep.
  • Just say no. It isn’t rude to politely refuse a drink when you don’t want one.

#8 Travel Safely

Make sure that you’re in good condition to drive before getting in the car. If you’re tired or have had a couple of drinks too many – don’t get behind the wheel. Never be in such a rush that seatbelts and child car seats are being used correctly. A car accident may ruin some other family’s holidays as well as yours.

#9 Make Time for Exercise

While fitting in time for everybody and everything else, don’t forget to make time to take care of yourself. As difficult as it may seem, keep to your fitness routine (if you have one). If you don’t exercise regularly, there’s no reason not to start now. If you join a gym this is the emptiest time of year – there’ll always be a treadmill or exercise bike available!

#10 Stock the Fridge with Healthy Eating Options

From the office to your Aunt’s living room; there’s going to be sweets, pastries, and cakes everywhere. Take care of your health by stocking your refrigerator with healthy foods. Keep a ready supply of fruit juices, vegetables, lean meats, dairy, and nuts to get the fiber, vitamins, minerals, and essential fats that can help undo some of the damage from the six donuts you had at work today.

#11 Politely Refuse More Often Than Not

politely refuse foodAs difficult as it may be, sometimes it’s best to politely decline that extra slice of pie and risk offending somebody. The weight gain people typically experience over the holidays is strictly the result of over-eating. Minimize the damage from eating way more than you do the rest of the year by learning to refuse offered food.

I know, it’s your mom or grandmother’s traditional holiday cookies or cakes, and it can seem rude or hurtful to refuse – but if you want to keep your holiday weight gain to a minimum; it’s the only way to go.