The PreD Blog

Take Advantage of the Body’s Master Timekeeper

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sleepyCircadian rhythms, which cycle every 24 hours, drive virtually every system in the human body, from circulation and cognition to metabolism, memory and mood. They also play a big role in determining when we are most vulnerable to health problems.

Chronobiology is the study of these internal clock mechanisms. This research has exploded in recent years due to the discovery of specific genes which scientists have named Cryptochrome, Clock, and Period. These specific genes help keep our biological systems in sync with light and darkness creating a surge of biochemical changes at dawn and at dusk.

The body’s master timekeeper is a group of neurons in the hypothalamus, located behind the eyes, called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, or SCN. In darkness, the SCN prompts the pineal gland to release melatonin, the hormone that facilitates sleep. Other chemical changes reduce body temperature, blood pressure and heart rate, all of which are at their lowest overnight.

While at rest, other bodily systems are highly active at night. Stomach acids, the liver and hormone leptin are at their peak and the immune system may also be over- active at night, inflaming airways in asthma sufferers and swelling of arthritic joints. Hormones are being made and balanced at night. Muscle fibers are repaired and built at night and fat metabolism is occurring as well.

In the morning when light on the retinas signals the SCN to shut off melatonin, cortisol, the stress hormone, starts to rise preparing the body for the day. Blood pressure and heart rate increases and a substance called PAI-1, which clots the blood, peaks at 6:30 a.m.  Researchers are starting to develop treatment strategies to take advantage of circadian rhythms or restore them when they are out of sync- a field called chronotherapy.

Take advantage of the body’s rhythms and cycles and take medications at these times.

 

EARLY MORNING

Cortisol, stress hormone release increases. Heart rate and blood pressure start to climb.

Heart attacks and strokes are most frequent and severe between 6 a.m. and noon due to changes in proteins that make blood platelets more likely to clot.

Arthritic joints are stiffest and most painful from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. due to an overnight rise in pro-inflammatory factors.

    • Take thyroid medication, as most doctors recommend taking these in the morning. Remember to wait at least 1 hour before ingesting anything else!
    • Take diuretics in the morning to avoid nighttime urination that interrupts sleep.
    • Take osteoporosis drugs on an empty stomach to maximize their absorption in the morning right after waking.
    • Take osteoarthritis drugs four hours before flare-ups are expected as they usually occur early or mid-morning.

 

AFTERNOON

Skin allergies and hives worsen as natural itch-fighting chemicals decline.

Fevers tend to be more frequent at this time of day because body temperature reaches its highest point.

Epileptic seizures in the temporal lobe are most common between 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Alzheimer’s patients experience worsening agitation and confusion at this time of day.

    • Take vitamins with lunch. Nutrient absorption requires live enzymes and a balanced meal to slow digestion. Most people do not eat enough at breakfast to provide enough bulk and live enzymes for optimal nutrient absorption, so take your vitamins after lunch.

 

EVENING

Asthma attacks are more frequent and severe at this time of day as airways become more inflamed and irritated.

Blood pressure is at its highest at around 9 p.m.

Hunger peaks around 8 p.m. as the body prepares to fast overnight.

Heartburn is more common as the stomach produces more acid at this time.

    • Take acid-blockers at dinnertime, since stomach acid peaks at night.
    • Take Beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors at night to ward off blood clots that contribute to early-morning heart attacks
    • Take daily aspirin for heart risk to minimize early morning clot formation related to strokes.
    • Take statins at bedtime to lower bad cholesterol in the early morning.
    • Take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) after dinner to control overnight inflammation due to arthritis and minimize stomach issues.
    • Take corticosteroids for chronic asthma at bedtime to minimize overnight asthma attacks.

 

OVERNIGHT

Blood pressure, core body temperature and heart rate are at their lowest.

Melatonin, the hormone that facilitates sleep, is high.

Liver releases large amounts of glucose, and raises blood sugar levels from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m.

 

In general, experts say going to bed, getting up and eating meals at the same time every day, getting lots of light in the morning and avoiding light at night can go along way to improve your health and mood. Its advice you’ve heard from your parents as a child, but now, there is a lot more information and research as to why it is true. Do it because it’s good for you, not just because they told you so.

The Power of Food

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Diabetes-Summer-Grilling-TipsUnlike drugs, foods are not isolated substances. Plant based whole foods contain a multitude of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, phytochemicals and antioxidants. These compounds interact together to reduce disease risk, lower inflammation and slow the aging process. These essential nutrients are necessary in plentiful amounts to help the body function optimally. Without sufficient amounts of these nutrients, bodily functions are impaired, cells are nutrient deplete increasing stress on the system and can result in the development of chronic diseases.

Include these seven foods every day of the week to nourish, strengthen, protect and heal your body.

 

  1. Cruciferous Vegetables

These vegetables leave a tingle on your tongue because of the compounds that make it so healthy! They’re called glucosinolates. Include these common cruciferous vegetables in your diet each day in soups, salads, stews, stir-fry and side dishes. Buy frozen versions to keep on hand for ease and convenience. Fresh versions are often available pre-cut and washed to ease with prep. These are the most common and widely available cruciferous vegetables to get familiar with; broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, mustard greens, rutabaga, Swiss chard, turnips and watercress.

 

  1. Onions and Garlic

These and other members of the allium family, such as leeks, shallots and scallions have properties that stimulate the elimination of toxins and carcinogens in the body. There is also evidence-linking allium to reducing blood pressure, blood clots and improving cholesterol.

 

  1. Mushrooms

Choose a mushroom, shiitakes, creminis, portabella, reishi, oyster, enoki, porcini, or chanterelles, you can’t go wrong. Over 50 years of research have proven that your immune system loves mushrooms because of their polysaccharides content which actually turn on the body’s natural defense system. These little medicinal powerhouses also provide proteins, vitamin D and antioxidants!

 

  1. Berries

Blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, goji berries, cherries and cranberries contain a rich source of phytochemicals that reduce chronic inflammation throughout the body and reduce cancer risk as well. Cranberries have been shown to prevent urinary tract infections, possibly because they prevent bacteria from adhering to the bladder. Berries contain anthocyanins that have been shown to have UV protective properties for skin and eyes.

 

  1. Seeds and Nuts

A multitude of studies have shown that nuts and seeds are beneficial to maintaining healthy weight, blood sugar levels and improved cardiovascular function. As a group, nuts and seeds offer healthy doses of fiber, protein, beneficial fats and minerals. Add crunch and texture to your meals with these little powerhouses and sprinkle them often. Try chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds to pump up the nutrition in your foods. Make sure flax seeds are cold-milled and ground to improve absorption of their nutrients. Heat oxidizes the omega-3’s in ground flax seeds so enjoy them on cold foods and store in the refrigerator. Embellish your meals with nuts to improve satiation. I like pecans, walnuts, almonds, cashews and pistachios a lot, so I always have them on hand in my pantry. Store in your refrigerator or freezer to prevent nuts from getting rancid. Nut and seed butters are another great way to incorporate healthy fats into your diet. Tahini, which is a sesame seed paste, is great to use in place of oil in dressings, and I use almond or peanut butter in place of butter in baking cookies.

 

  1. Ginger, Turmeric, Cloves and Cinnamon

Research has shown that these spices have analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties that can erase bloating, ease muscle aches, reduce stomach pain by relaxing muscles in the gut as well as prevent blood sugar elevations after eating. The Journal of Affective Disorders reported that eating turmeric, found in curries, could ease symptoms of depression.

 

  1. Green Tea

The phytochemical EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) in green teas have anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and heart health benefits. It has also been shown to help protect your skin from sun damage. I carry green tea bags in the car or in my purse to use as a cold compress for bug bites in a pinch. Make a cold anti-oxidant green tea brew with 4 green tea bags, sliced citrus such as lemon and limes, fresh mint and basil or cucumber. Add ingredients to a large pitcher of water, about 6 cups of filtered water and refrigerate for 4 hours to allow flavors to mingle, then serve over ice. Simply refill pitcher with fresh water to re-brew a new batch one more time. Sweeten with apple juice, blueberry pomegranate juice or honey and enjoy this simple concoction with many health benefits. Beware of the caffeine content in green tea, which contains 30 mg of caffeine. Compared to a 12 oz. cup of coffee with 120 mg of caffeine, green tea can perk you up without the buzz, jitters or increased heartbeat.

The Healthy Traveler’s Eating Guide and Checklist

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6uMWNoOvSrhRtFEp-cWEv8x034cFCGqd_XJI1-FmLqEEating healthfully while traveling shouldn’t cause you stress! Sure, routines are broken, food choices are limited and mindless snacking can be a problem, but there is a solution. Commit to memory our easy to follow guidelines and never get off track again!

 

Pair Protein with Fiber

Make sure all your meals and snacks are balanced with good sources of nutrient dense fiber and lean proteins. When paired together, this nutritious duo can curb hunger for several hours because protein is filling and fiber helps you stay full.

  • Pick a protein:

Nuts or seeds (i.e. chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds)

Nut butter or avocado

Hard-boiled eggs

Hummus or bean dip

Single serving cheese

Bison or turkey jerky

Roast turkey or chicken (low-sodium)

  • Pair with nutrient dense fiber:

Fresh vegetables (i.e. cherry tomatoes, snap peas, carrots)

Whole grain crackers, bean chips or brown rice cakes

Fresh whole fruit (i.e. apple, oranges, grapes)

 

Minimize Risk at Restaurants

Decode the dangers when dining out with these tips.

  • Ditch nutrient poor options

Pass on chips, pretzels, cookies and other sides that only offer carbs without fiber and nutrients.

  • Red flag fried foods

Words that say ‘battered’, ‘crispy’, ‘breaded’, or ‘crunchy’ should alert you to avoid that option. Other common fried foods such as French fries, egg rolls, chips, taquitos, chimichangas, fried wontons and tempura should be avoided. The oils to fry the foods are constantly reheated and can become toxic to your system.

  • Scope out low sodium foods

Look for sandwiches made with grilled or roasted vegetables, hummus or turkey instead of the sausage and salami options that are high in sodium. Choose salads with colorful vegetables, beans, grilled chicken, nuts and seeds instead of soups that are commonly high in sodium. Always ask for sauce and dressings on the side. They are always high in salt and have hidden sugars as well.

  • Skip the sugar

Traveling doesn’t give you a pass on eating sugar. Pick out fresh portable fruits such as oranges and apples instead. Refined and processed carbs in cookies, ice cream, brownies, cakes, pies and other desserts make a beeline to your belly fat, so skip it and go for a walk after dinner instead.

 

Hydrate Healthfully

It’s easy to overlook hydration when traveling. Here are a few tips to keep you from getting dehydrated and prevent all the side effects associated with it, such as headaches, deep vein thrombosis, puffy eyes, leg spasms and constipation, to name a few.

  • Choose water or seltzer

Skip sugary drinks and choose water, sparkling mineral water or seltzer. Don’t confuse club soda and tonic water as an option. Club sodas contain added sodium and tonic water has added sweeteners and quinine. Sweeten your drinks with grape juice or cranberry juice and add slices of lemon or cucumber for a hint of natural flavor.

  • Take along tea bags

Make your own cold brew teas or hot tea when you bring your own tea bags. I like to bring mint, green tea and chamomile teas on trips for therapeutic purposes. Chamomile for calming nerves, mint tea for stomach issues and green tea for a light pick-me-up when I need it. They also make a good cold compress for bug bites and puffy eyes! I stash tea bags in a plastic bag and keep them in my purse because I can get hot water at any convenience store or restaurant.

 

Pack Snacks

Stop at any store and you can find road friendly snacks to help bridge your hunger between lunch and dinner. The first rule to staying on track with your health goals is to avoid mindless eating, so plan to have one snack a day and pack it with you.

  • Be mindful of amounts

Pack single serving amounts so you don’t over do it. Snacks should be between 150-250 calories and are a tool to help keep your blood sugars level so they don’t drop and cause you to overeat or make an unhealthy choice.

  • Safe storage for snacks

Freeze water bottles the night before and put them in insulated bags or coolers to keep your perishables cool and fresh for 4 hours. Pack temperature stable foods such as large cut veggies, hummus, whole grain crackers, nuts, boiled eggs, lentils, tofu, grapes or oranges and leave the temperature sensitive foods such as lettuce, yogurt and mayo at home.

 

Fast Foods Under 500 calories

Fortunately for everyone, fast food restaurants do offer healthy options under 500 calories that fit into a nutritious meal plan.

  • Settle for sandwiches and salads

Every fast food restaurant offers a salad with grilled chicken or get a turkey and vegetable sub sandwich. These options work great in a pinch and pat yourself on the back for passing on the French fries and frosty shake.

 

Mini Meal Misconceptions

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close-up of a young woman eating meat from a skewer

The popular notion of eating smaller, more frequent meals as a healthier approach than the traditional three meals a day may not be as advertised. Here’s how to make sense of the mixed messages on mini meals.

Eating more frequently gives more opportunity to overeat. Balancing the frequency of meals with the proper amount is the best way to prevent overeating.

Most studies show that eating more often than three times a day doesn’t improve metabolism, weight loss success or help people feel less hungry during the day, as stated by Hollie Raynor, PhD, RD, associate professor nutrition at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and research chair of the weight management dietetic practice group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Eating nutrient rich meals that provide vitamins and minerals to your cells and organs can help them run more efficiently, improving metabolism. Also, increasing your metabolism by eating more food is not the best way to encourage weight loss. Building lean muscle mass is the best way to improve metabolism and help with weight loss.

If you are on a 1,200 calorie weight loss diet and eat 6 times a day, your meals would be 200 calories each. The danger is when meals are too small and unsatisfying making you vulnerable to overeating. Eat larger meals at the beginning of the day and at lunch, tapering meal size towards evening. This helps improve satisfaction and reduces the likelihood of overeating.

Eating many mini meals is not the best way to improve blood sugar regulation. The best way to improve blood sugars is to make sure each meal is balanced with a combination of all three macronutrients.

At every meal or snack make sure there are complex carbohydrates rich in nutrients and fiber, lean proteins and healthy fats represented. For example, many people like to snack on nuts, which are a great source of proteins and fats but its not balanced without a complex carbohydrate. Pair nuts with a nutrient and fiber rich complex carb such as carrots, cherry tomatoes or celery and you have a balanced snack that includes all three macronutrients. Additionally, a 10-15 minute walk after each meal can improve your body’s ability to regulate the sugars in your blood too!

When Mini Meals are Meaningful

Certain medical conditions are sensitive to an over-full stomach or long gaps between meals. If you have any of these conditions, smaller meals may help you feel better.

  • Gastric bypass surgery: This is especially meaningful during the early months after surgery, while healing, but not necessarily long term.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): Breathing may be more difficult with an over-full stomach.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): Frequently signaled by heartburn, eating smaller meals can help reduce uncomfortable reflux.

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