Thursday, March 12, 2015

Is It OK To Drink Coffee?

Many consider coffee drinking an unhealthy habit. However, for the vast majority of people, drinking coffee is not associated with negative health outcomes and may actually reduce the risk of chronic disease.

Although by far the biggest ingredient in coffee is water, it also contains an abundance of antioxidants, flavonoids, and other biologically active substances. These compounds can have a powerful impact on our health. In the large cohort studies at Harvard University, coffee drinking has been associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, gallstones, and even Parkinson’s disease. 

So, while coffee drinking is fine, here are a few points to consider:

1) It appears that up to 6 cups per day have no negative impact on health (Reference 1). Keep in mind that a cup is 8 ounces, so if you are having a large, or extra large, you are really having 3 or 4 cups.

2) Adding cream and sugar can turn a healthy drink into a decidedly unhealthy drink. The additional calories, saturated fat, and sugar can add up quickly and negatively impact both your weight and your health. This is especially true if you are having multiple cups per day. Stick to skim or 1% milk and avoid sweeteners.

3) Coffee contains a fair amount of caffeine. In small amounts, this is not a problem for most of us. However, for certain populations, like pregnant women and those with hypertension, decaf is probably a better choice. If you have any health issues at all, check with your doctor about your recommended caffeine intake.

4) If possible, use a paper filter when brewing your coffee. There is evidence that a compound found in coffee, called cafestol, may increase LDL cholesterol. Using a paper filter greatly reduces the amount of cafestol in your coffee (Reference 2).

1) Lopez-Garcia et al. Relationship of coffee consumption with mortality. Annals of Internal Medicine 2008; 148:904-14.

2) Urgent R, et al. Separate effects of the coffee diterpenes cafestrol and kahweol on serum lipids and liver aminotransferases. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1997; 65:519-24.

Whole Grains And Mortality

The Study
74,341 women from The Nurses’ Health Study and 43,744 men from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study had their whole grain consumption measured repeatedly and were followed for 24 years. Rates of mortality were then compared. Participants who consumed the most whole grains had a statistically significant 9% lower risk of mortality when compared to those who consumed the least. Adding one serving of whole grains per day (28 grams) was associated with a 5% lower total mortality in this cohort.        
JAMA Internal Medicine doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.6283

Take Home Message
Proponents of paleo and low carb diets claim that whole grains have a negative impact on health and need to be completely avoided. This statement is not supported by the current research literature. The authors of this study feel the benefits of whole grains come from their high levels of fiber, B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, antioxidants and numerous other beneficial phytochemicals.  These substances combine to have a powerful impact on our health. The authors also mentioned that whole grains have been shown to have a favorable impact on blood pressure, insulin sensitivity, as well as cardiovascular health in general. This could account for the decreases in mortality among the participants consuming high amounts of whole grains. I have my clients shoot for 2 servings of whole grains per day. Good examples of whole grains are old fashioned oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, and corn.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Weight Training And Abdominal Obesity

The Study
Waist circumference and physical activity were measured in 10,500 men from the Health Professional Follow-up Study in 1996 and 2008. The goal was to see which activities caused the greatest reduction in abdominal fat over the 12 year study period. In a somewhat surprising finding, resistance training had the strongest association with lower abdominal fat. Adding 20 minutes per day of weight training resulted in a .67 cm reduction in weight circumference. Adding 20 minutes per day of cardiovascular exercise resulted in a .33 cm reduction in waist circumference. The authors believed that the metabolic boost from weight training was the likely reason for the difference. Obesity 2014 doi:10.1002/oby.20949

Take Home Message
Resistance training is often completely ignored by those trying to lose weight. This is a real shame, because there is no better way to increase your metabolism, and therefore, the number of calories you burn each day.

In this investigation, resistance training resulted in twice the reduction in waist circumference over 12 years when compared to cardiovascular exercise. Does this mean that you should you stop doing your cardio and focus just on the weights? Absolutely not! The combination of cardio, weight lifting, and the right diet are pivotal to improving your health and losing weight. This study just highlights the importance of including resistance training in your program.

Product Review: MyFitnessPal Smartphone App

If you are looking to improve your diet to lose weight or reduce your risk of chronic disease, writing down what you eat is critical to your success. Food logging provides a higher level of accountability and helps you uncover the days/times/situations that are giving you the most trouble. When these situations are properly identified, a strategy can be created to deal with them effectively.  

The My Fitness Pal app is a powerful tool to help you do this. You can easily record your food, and more importantly, this app allows you to keep track of critical aspects of your diet like total calories, fiber, sodium and percent fat, protein, and carbohydrate. While this app is not the first or only app that allows you to record you food, it is the ease of use that makes this such a home run.

1) My Fitness Pal is free, which is awesome.

2) The number of foods in the My Fitness Pal database is mind-numbing at 5 million. You can search for brand names as well as food names. For example, if you get your almond butter freshly ground at Whole Foods, you can find it specifically in the database, instead of just looking up generic “almond butter”.

3) You can scan barcodes with your smart phone to identify a food.

4) Tutorial videos are provided that explain each and every feature in detail.

5) Once you are done logging your food, you can get nutrition summaries of your day, including your calories, fiber, sugar, and sodium consumption. You can also quickly view a pie chart of your fat, protein, and carb distribution. This is my favorite feature and provides a great summary of how you did that day.

6) You can save meals and import them on another day. This is a great feature, because most of us rotate a few different breakfasts and lunches the majority of the time. Logging these meals is instantaneous when you can just call them in.

7) There is a friend feature that allows you to share your food logs with others.  This is useful if you want to show your nutritionist, trainer, or doctor what you are doing.

8) You can import whole recipes from popular sites like The app will scan in the ingredients, fill out the nutrition data, and assign you totals per serving. I haven’t used this feature, but it seems pretty handy for those that cook a lot.

Would I Recommend My Fitness Pal?
Absolutely! This is particularly valuable for my clients that are just starting out. It is also useful for those that have been successful in losing the majority of their weight and are now trying to lose that last couple of pounds, which can require a bit more focus on their diet.

So what should you shoot for? Although these recommendations are highly dependent on activity level, I have my female weight loss clients shoot for about 1200-1300 calories per day, and my men f0r 1500-1600 calories per day. As far as fat, protein, and carbohydrate as a percentage of calories, I look for 20% of calories as lean protein, 30-35% of calories as healthy vegetable fat, and 45-50% of calories as low glycemic load carbohydrate.

Pick up this free app on your android or IPhone. You’ll be glad you did.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Questions And Answers: Should I Join A Gym?

Whenever I meet a new client, they often wonder if it is necessary to join a gym in order to attain their weight loss and fitness goals.   

The answer is no, there really is no good reason to join a gym. For the vast majority of my clients, working out at home makes a lot more sense. Here are some of the biggest reasons why:

1) Working out at home saves you time. Driving to the gym, parking your car, changing your clothes in the locker room and then doing the reverse after your workout can take up a lot of time. I, personally, can get half of my workout done by the time it would take me to get on the gym floor. When you are really busy, that extra 20 minutes can be the difference between getting your workout in and having to skip it.

2) Working out at home saves you money. Gyms are not cheap, especially the nice ones. You can take one year’s worth of gym fees and set yourself up with equipment that will last you a decade or longer.

3) Working out at home will make you more consistent. It is virtually impossible to get to the gym every day. Having equipment at home will allow you to work out more regularly, or at least get half a workout in when time is tight. In 15 years as a trainer, I have had exactly one client who was able to get all of her cardio done at a gym with consistency. I can’t even count the number who hit their cardio goals while exercising at home.

4) Working out at home will make you more efficient. Combining your cardio with something you already do is a great idea. Watching the news or other taped shows, returning phone calls, and checking your email are all things you can do while working out. It is not easy to multitask at a gym.

So what will you need? Not much, really. A set of dumbbells, an exercise mat, and a piece of cardio equipment will do the job amazingly well. I am a big fan of elliptical trainers for cardio, they are efficient calorie burners and create minimal joint stress. If you want to go the more thrifty route, a Gazelle Edge ($113 on is all you’ll need. If you want to spend a bit more money on the bells and whistles, a Life Fitness elliptical is a great choice.


Mediterranean Diet And Telomere Length

The Study
A telomere is a DNA structure on a cell that shortens each time the cell divides. Telomere length is considered a biomarker for aging, because shorter telomeres have been associated with a decreased life expectancy and an increased risk of major chronic disease. In this investigation of 4,676 women from the Nurses’ Health Study, the impact of a Mediterranean diet on telomere length was examined. 

A score was created for each participant that gauged adherence to a Mediterranean diet. The score had 9 components: vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, legumes, fish, monounsaturated fat:saturated fat ratio, red and processed meat, and alcohol. Women with higher scores had significantly longer telomeres after adjusting for confounders. These results provide further evidence that adherence to a Mediterranean diet promotes greater health and longevity. British Medical Journal 2014:349:g6674.

Take Home Message
In the last decade, there has been a tremendous amount of research showing a real benefit to the Mediterranean style of eating. This study is unique because it uses a biomarker for aging, which has been associated with longevity and chronic disease incidence in the research literature. 

The results of this study were pretty impressive. The difference in telomere length for each 1 point change in the Mediterranean diet score corresponded to 1.5 years of aging. A three point change in score was equivalent to 4.5 years of aging, which is comparable to the difference between smokers and non-smokers. This study provides further evidence that a Mediterranean diet is the way to go if you are looking to reduce your risk of chronic disease and increase longevity. For those of you that work with me or have read my book, congratulations, you are already consuming a Mediterranean diet!


Soda Consumption And Rheumatoid Arthritis

The Study
79,570 women from The Nurses’ Health Study and 107,330 women from the Nurses’ Health Study II cohort were divided into groups according to their consumption of soda and followed for over 20 years. The number of new diagnoses of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in each group was compared at the end of follow-up. Women who consumed 1 or more sodas per day had a 63% increased risk of developing seropositive RA (the most common form) when compared to those consuming less than 1 serving of soda per month. Diet soda was not associated with risk of RA. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2014; 100:959-67.

Take Home Message
This study provides further evidence that sugar sweetened beverages, like soda, can have a powerful impact on our health. Soda may increase inflammation and reduce insulin sensitivity, which the authors believe explains the increase in RA among the soda drinkers. Strictly limit consumption of sugar sweetened beverages, and all added sugars for that matter.