Healthy Foods, Healthy Weight
In today’s United States, where food is abundant, affordable and irresistibly delicious, overweight and obesity are now an epidemic. And, as the epidemic keeps growing, weight loss and dieting have become major topics of conversations, media coverage and health care research.
The secret to weight loss is simple: Consume fewer calories than the body uses. And any diet that limits caloric intake will do the trick. The problem is, when people go off the diet, they gain the weight right back. That happens because most diets require that we deprive ourselves of certain foods or food groups— and many can’t sustain this for long.
Instead, research has shown that people respond better to positive messages. And, with some education, meveryone can learn to form healthy eating habits and pave the way to maintaining a healthy weight and improving fitness.
In the past decade, probiotics have become increasingly popular in the United States, but many consumers still don’t fully understand what probiotics are and what effects they have on the body.
What are probiotics?
• The term “probiotics” describes microorganisms or other agents that support healthy flora in the human gastrointestinal tract. Healthy flora help digest food, maintain the intestinal endothelium, inhibit pathogens or perform other useful functions.
• There is abundant research on the physiologicaleffects of probiotics-containing foods or supplements, specifically on the use of certain Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains, as well as the yeast Saccharomyces boulardii.
• Human clinical research on probiotics has mostly focused on gastrointestinal conditions.
• Some clinical studies have shown an intriguing effect of probiotics on the immune function.
The benefits of probiotics
• Diarrhea secondary to pediatric viral infections, antibiotic therapy or foreign travel has been prevented or reduced in severity in numerous controlled trials.
• Four out of five double-blind studies reported benefits to sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome.
• Some success has also been reported in the treatment of ulcerative colitis.
• Some studies have looked at the effect of probiotics on the immune system, and are showing promising remarks.
Which foods or supplements contain probiotics?
• Probiotics appear to be safe and promising dietary supplements.
• While several foods, such as yogurt, kefir and sauerkraut, contain probiotic organisms, their strains may be quite different and in much lower concentrations compared with the supplements employed in clinical trials.
• Research has yet to show whether certain strains are superior to others and what the optimal daily intake should be for treatment and prevention of various diseases.
• The doses used in studies ranged from two billion to several hundred billion colony-forming units per day.
• Many of the exact strains employed in clinical research are not commercially available in the United States, and it is unclear whether similar products would produce equal results.
Choosing a Supplement
Everyone knows that eating a wide variety of foods is crucial for good health. Modern farming practices, however, have robbed foods of essential nutrients. Refined white flour, for example, contains less than a quarter of vitamins E and B6, magnesium, manganese, and zinc. Supplementation to restore depleted nutrients has become very important, and multi-vitamin/ mineral (MVM) supplements, which provide a range of nutrients in one pill, have been gaining popularity.
What should a good multi-vitamin/mineral supplement contain? Compare the supplement label with periodically updated nutrient Daily Values. Vitamins E and K, the ultratrace elements, and bulky ingredients—calcium, magnesium, and potassium—are often supplied in inappropriate amounts. Vitamin A, phosphorus, and iodine are overabundant in the U.S. diet. Extra iron and possibly copper may be potentially hazardous for those who already consume them from foods.
Supplements can contain vitamin A as retinol or beta carotene. Beta carotene has a very low toxicity potential and is a better antioxidant. Those with diabetes or hypothyroidism, however, may not adequately convert beta carotene into vitamin A, requiring an MVM with some retinol (e.g., 2,000 international units [IU] a day).
Vitamin D deficiency may increase the risk of diabetes, hypertension, autoimmune diseases, certain cancers, and muscle and joint pain. From infancy, 200 IU a day is recommended, rising to 400 IU a day after age 50 and to 600 IU a day after age 70. Individuals with increased risk for osteoporosis may need as much as 800 IU a day.
Are You Drinking Enough Water?
Water is critical for our survival. In fact, after oxygen, it is the second most necessary life-sustaining factor. Under normal circumstances, people can live for weeks without food, but we can only survive without water for a few days.
The human body requires adequate water to maintain its function. As we age, we lose a significant amount of water in the body. For example, 75% of infants’ weight generally consists of water, but a 50-year-old female’s weight may consist of only 50% water.
Water helps form the fluid in our joints, the mucous in our lungs, and many other bodily fluids. In addition, it is necessary when we exercise or are exposed to high temperatures—the evaporation of sweat helps cool us.
The human body strives to maintain balance between the amount of water that we lose vs. what we take in. Thirst is the body’s way to tell us we need water. When the body has too little fluid, it also reduces water loss by making our urine more concentrated. Generally speaking, most of our water loss occurs through breathing, sweating, urination and bowel movements. Abnormalities in any of these functions—for example, diarrhea—can profoundly affect the balance of our hydration.
It is also possible that drinking too much water without getting enough sodium and potassium may cause “hyperhydration” or “water intoxication.” Both dehydration and hyperhydration can lead to serious health problems.
What is dehydration?
When we lose excessive amounts of water, or water and electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, we get dehydrated. We feel the effects of dehydration in many ways, including weakness, abnormal heart rhythms, and fluid accumulation in the abdomen and/or the lungs. In a situation with increased water loss, such as physical exertion, dehydration can happen much quicker. In fact, dehydration can affect an athlete after less than 1 hour of exercise.
We are considered dehydrated when we’ve lost 1-2% of our body weight secondary to fluid loss. For example, a 150-lb. athlete who loses more than 3 lbs. may begin to feel the effects of dehydration. If we lose more than 3% of our body weight, we are at greater risk for heat-related illnesses like cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.
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